Sun | Mar 29, 2020

Health + Tech | Digital pharmacies the way of the future

Published:Sunday | January 12, 2020 | 12:55 AM

Jamaica is no stranger to electronic dispensing of prescriptions. The National Health Fund has put in place a Pharmacy Information Management System in their Drug Serv pharmacies, including those at several public hospitals across the island. The University of the West Indies is very far ahead in completely implementing their Hospital Information Management System and, within that, the pharmacy module, which is already in use and allows for the ability to digitally conduct all pharmacy-related activities from prescribing to dispensing and between that inventory and stock management.

We are still far behind many other countries in terms of putting in place a full digital health ecosystem to truly allow for digital pharmacies to take shape. E-prescription is still not yet a part of government pharmacy legislation, despite several pharmacies, including government-owned ones, continuously seeking digital transfer options such as text, email and whats app for submission of prescriptions to better satisfy their clients’ needs.

It is no surprise that caregivers and businesses are ahead of legislators. Often that’s exactly how it works, but we are still too slow to adjust. There are several advantages, especially to the end user, to a completely digital pharmacy as part of the wider healthcare community. These include:

n The ability to check for drug: drug, drug: allergy and drug: food quickly while the prescription is being prepared.

n Easy and convenient dispensing.

n Facilitate delivery to patients, especially those unable to leave home.

n Prevent fraudulent prescriptions.

n Checking inventory for availability, interactions and substitutes can be done easily.

n Provide scheduled refills to patients.

n Improve readability of prescriptions and therefore reduce errors.

GROWING MARKET

The market for digital pharmacy is growing. Zion Market Research published a report titled ‘E-Pharmacy Market by Drug Type (Prescription Drugs and Over The Counter Drugs): Global Industry Perspective, Comprehensive Analysis, and Forecast, 2018–2025’. According to the report, the global e-pharmacy market was approximately US$42.32 billion in 2018 and is expected to generate around US$107.53 billion by 2025, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of around 14.26 per cent between 2019 and 2025.

Countries have been prioritising this aspect of digital health and have introduced several measures to improve end-to-end pharmacy management. Poland has a new government electronic service in which prescriptions are issued and digitally transferred from doctor to pharmacy. This started in January 2020. A company called Phlo is a digital pharmacy that serves the United Kingdom’s National Health System and offers same-day delivery of prescriptions. ‘Now Patient’ does something similar through an app.

In Botswana, an app called Uzima Rx is working through a pharmacy to help local hospitals and clinics to take their supply management digital. The United States has several private companies that are finding ways to plug pharmacy care administration loopholes while making the process easier and more convenient for the patient.

A digital pharmacy called Capsule, which is a New York-based start-up, offers hand-delivered same-day medication drop-off. The service is also offered with the patient’s insurance and they have the option of direct calling or virtual chatting with the company’s pharmacists. The physician sends the prescription to Capsule, which then contacts the patient via text message to schedule delivery.

Amazon has a company called PillPack which promises a full and easy process of acquiring and refilling medication. PillPack liaises with the patient’s doctor and insurance and sorts medication by dose. Deliveries are made, including those for monthly prescriptions, on a schedule as required. Refills are automatic, deliveries are to the patient’s door and there is an opportunity to directly speak with a pharmacy 24/7.

These are just a few examples. There is a plethora of software companies across the United States and elsewhere now providing digital pharmacy services. There is no reason why Jamaica cannot get in the game. We have the software to make this a reality, as indicated at The University Hospital of the West Indies. We also have online real-time insurance adjudication, which is important in our context, and we have an electronic payment method – Quisk, Mobile Money solution – to allow any socio-economic group to participate in such a transaction. Once the legislation catches up, the industry will be set to take off locally.

n Dough Halsall is chairman and CEO of Advanced Integrated Systems. Doug.halsall@gmail.com