Tackling health data reform, one prescription at a time

Announced in May, the Ottawa Hospital is the first hospital in Canada to launch PrescribeIT® through its hospital information system, making it available to approximately 2,500 prescribers. The national e-prescribing service enables prescribers to send prescriptions and renewals electronically to a patient’s pharmacy of choice, resulting in safer, more efficient patient care while also improving clinicians’ workflows and communication with pharmacies.

Jamie Bruce, Canada Health Infoway’s executive vice president for PrescribeIT, shares why the launch is an essential step towards building a more connected health care system.

Q. Why is the Ottawa Hospital rollout so significant on the journey towards health data reform in Canada?

A. The Ottawa Hospital rollout represents a major milestone for e-prescribing in Canada. Prescriptions are the number one touchpoint Canadians have with the health care system — there’s well over 250 million new and renewed prescriptions coming from prescribers to patients every year — and many of those are paper. The paper and faxed prescription processes come with inherent risks to the patient, both from increased risk of errors due to transcription as well as data privacy, and it also makes it difficult to ensure continuity of care. PrescribeIT “fixes” and integrates into the backend of systems already in use by prescribers and community retail pharmacies, to ensure true digital transmission of prescriptions.

The Ottawa Hospital rollout is especially significant as we look ahead towards building a more connected health care system. While hospitals are a central component to care, when a patient leaves the hospital, continuity of care is transferred to their primary care provider and their community-based pharmacist. By implementing PrescribeIT in the hospital setting, we’re helping to improve continuity of care because the hospital-based prescribers now have better line of sight to ensure that the prescriptions are getting to the right pharmacy and their patient is getting the appropriate medications. At the same time, the primary care provider has line of sight to see that a new medication has been dispensed.

Q. What impacts will electronic prescribing have on the day to day functioning of the hospital, its prescribers, and the patients it serves?

A. Ultimately, this rollout will help ensure patients are receiving more consistent care and will support better adherence to medications, which we know leads to better health outcomes. Adverse drug events are a huge driver of emergency visits and longer hospital stays impacting access to care for all Canadians — and within the prescription process there’s many steps where electronic prescribing can help reduce the frequency of these errors. With PrescribeIT in place within the hospital setting, hospital-based prescribers can have the confidence that the prescription will end up in the right pharmacy and will be filled, whereas in the past, they had no visibility once the paper prescription left with the patient.

Prescriptions that originate in hospitals also present a unique challenge for pharmacists when questions or the need for clarification arises, because tracking down a hospital-based prescriber is very different than reaching out to a local family physician. Through an integrated clinical communications tool, pharmacists can communicate directly with the prescriber in these cases to ensure the medication is dispensed correctly and without significant delays.

Q. What are some of the challenges with implementing electronic prescribing in a hospital setting and how were those mitigated in the Ottawa Hospital rollout?

A. Our priority was to ensure that the prescribers were well trained and there were change management structures in place. We worked closely with our hospital partners to ensure that the solution is a seamless addition to the workflow, that it’s easy to use and the prescribers all understand the functionalities. On the other side, we also worked to make sure that the pharmacies who are on the receiving end understand the nuances of receiving prescriptions from hospitals.

Q. How does implementing PrescribeIT in hospitals support the government’s broader goals of health care reform?

A. Health care interoperability and data reform is a key national priority and PrescribeIT is a prime example of how data can save lives — if you want to practice good medicine, you need good data, and you can’t have good data without strong digital tools. PrescribeIT enables prescribers and pharmacists to instantly exchange more detailed health data and it also happens to touch one of the most important pieces of health care information: medication. If you’re thinking about digitizing the system and digitizing data, tackling one of the biggest buckets of information such as medications is a great place to start. With 14,000 prescribers and 7,000 pharmacies enrolled in the service across Canada, Canada Health Infoway is working closely with the provinces and territories on additional rollout plans. The Ottawa Hospital launch has been an unmitigated success and we’re very excited about expanding to other hospitals.

Jamie Bruce, Executive Vice President, PrescribeIT