Pharma companies and healthcare institutions had to modernize their operations to keep up with COVID’s unfortunate legacy. Thus, improving service quality and accessibility via digital solutions is now mandatory.
Can you envision not having access to mobile healthcare options such as telemedicine or other medical virtual assistance platforms during the COVID pandemic? Imagine the chaos! Yes, mobile healthcare hasn’t reached full global coverage yet; far from it. Still, overall, the pandemic was the kindle that sparked healthcare organizations’ interest in expanding, or starting, their mobile medical services. As a result of these newfound efforts to modernize healthcare operations, some pharma companies and medical institutions have developed their own mobile healthcare solutions that offer myriad services. From telemedicine and virtual consultations to symptom checkers and educational applications, the healthcare industry has undeniably gone mobile in a quest to attract and engage with more users, improve the quality and accessibility of medical services, and secure their digital market presence. However, most solutions out there are still in their infancy, and there’s still a lack of interoperability and coverage that, hopefully, developing more solutions will fix. In the meantime, and driven mainly by the pandemic’s restrictions, we’re starting to witness the birth and proliferation of up-and-coming solutions, one of which is e-prescription apps.
Although far from commonplace globally, e-prescription apps are already a part of countless medical practices, especially in the US and Europe. They have the potential to drive better medication services, prevent deadly prescription mistakes, and make the process of prescribing and designing treatment avenues more efficient and accessible for patients, doctors, and pharmacies.
So, due to their increasing importance, we’ve created this article to help you understand more about how e-prescription apps are created and their significance to medical services worldwide. Here we go!
What are e-prescription apps?
Medication and prescription mistakes are one of the leading causes of preventable illness, healthcare costs, and unnecessary hospitalizations. In fact, these mistakes are so common that the FDA states they receive over 100,000 reports of medication errors each year! That sounds like a lot, especially now that electronic health solutions seem to be in vogue, but the truth is prescription errors still happen. They are responsible for around 530,000 yearly injury incidents, and nearly 98,000 deaths in US hospitals, not to mention the 326 million these errors cost the US healthcare system. Still, the loss of human lives is the most concerning part of the catastrophic aftermath of prescription mistakes. And here’s where e-prescription app development becomes paramount.
An e-prescription app is a technological, IT-based platform that allows physicians, pharmacists, pharma companies, and other medical practitioners and stakeholders to write, send, and fulfill prescriptions electronically. These prescriptions replace written, traditional ones, which makes them not only more transparent, secure, and easily transferable between patients, doctors, and pharmacists but ensures the integrity of the treatment by reducing human error.
Also, since most modern e-prescription apps are fully automated, the process of finding a medication, choosing its dosage, writing the prescription, and sending it to the pharmacy happens instantly and is easily understandable, simple, more secure, and straightforward for patients, physicians, and pharmacists alike. This constant communication between parties creates a feedback loop that unequivocally improves medication delivery and patient health outcomes. Moreover, and ideally, an e-prescribing application ensures data safety and confidentiality, strictly adheres to HIPAA compliance, and provides services that suit both doctors and patients.
Most modern e-prescription apps can also allow stakeholders to:
- Create accounts with confidential personal and medical data.
- Simplify the prescription refill process.
- Access historical medical data to view and manage patient history.
- Manage current and future medications.
- Calculate dosages.
- View drug interactions.
- Print prescriptions and other documents
- Define and minimize potential treatment side effects.
- Connect the patient to the best pharmacy for them.
- Integrate treatments with a patient’s electronic medical record (EMR) system.
E-prescription apps are a very convenient way of eliminating or at least minimizing the errors and obscurity associated with manual prescriptions. It is a promising mobile solution that replaces handwritten or call-in prescriptions and all the hazards and inconsistencies that come with them. These inconsistencies are caused by human errors and range from illegible written prescriptions and clerical errors to poorly typed instructions, reading mistakes, and wrong dosage calculations. So, by eliminating the need for manual processes and paperwork and minimizing physical human intervention, e-prescription apps provide a high level of precision and safety for patients that can improve medical outcomes, increase patient confidence in the healthcare system, and reduce medical errors.
As a result of their many benefits, e-prescription apps and software solutions have quickly gained traction. Consequently, they are becoming the go-to tool for prescription management in many healthcare scenarios. In fact, the e-prescription industry reached a $1.05 billion market worth in 2018, a figure which experts predict will reach $3.3 billion by 2025, growing at a CAGR of 23.3%. These numbers reflect that the e-prescription industry has the potential to open countless opportunities for healthcare institutions and patients across the globe.
How do e-prescription apps work?
It’s undeniable: e-prescription apps simplify the communication between medical care providers, patients, and pharmacies. But how do they facilitate such communication? What happens behind the scenes of e-prescription apps? Here’s how e-prescription apps work.
1. Appointment and information gathering
When patients make appointments, the interaction between them and the doctor kickstarts the e-prescribing process. After an examination, gathering the necessary clinical information, and making a diagnosis, the physician accesses their e-prescription application. Once there, and depending on the app’s functionality, they can access the patient’s insurance coverage details, EHR, EMR, historical medical data, and other crucial information that can help determine the proper treatment.
2. Access to prescription history
With all the information from the e-prescription app, the doctor can prescribe medication based not only on the patient’s current and historical medical data but also on the drugs covered by the patient’s medical insurance. This process happens thanks to the integration between the e-prescription app and a pharmacy benefit management’s (PBM) files. PBMs are third-party companies that handle prescription drug programs and benefits on behalf of health insurers, Medicare and other health plans, commercial health plans, and other healthcare suppliers. PBMs have curated lists (or formularies) of all the medications that are covered by the patient’s insurance plan, allowing the doctor to access all the medicines they can prescribe and choose the pharmacy that will be dispensing them.
3. Prescription process
Once the doctor selects the appropriate medication, the e-prescription app’s system sends the prescription details to the pharmacy of choice. The physician can either choose a specific pharmacy or select multiple pharmacies to give the patient the freedom to choose the most convenient one for them. The pharmacy then checks for drug availability and prepares the prescription for pickup. The e-prescribing system creates a patient-specific QR code, PIN, or barcode (depending on the type of app), and, if necessary, can communicate with the physician using the same e-prescription system to finalize any details and meet any additional requirements.
4. Pickup process
The physician submits the completed prescription process. Once authorized, the patient can pick up their medication using the app-generated QR code, PIN, or bar code and present them to their pharmacist.
5. Refill process
Thanks to e-prescription apps, refill processes are even more straightforward. Once the patient’s previous prescription runs out, they can place a refill request on their own, or they can have the pharmacy request the refill on their behalf. Either way, the doctor receives the request via the e-prescription app, where they can approve it. If the physician or the patient considers a follow-up appointment necessary, the doctor can deny the refill request, wait for the appointment, and then start the prescription process again.
Some e-prescription apps have more functionality, such as telemedicine capabilities or educational features. Still, the basics of most electronic prescription systems are the same, and most of them work as illustrated above.
What are the benefits of e-prescription apps?
As you already learned, poor drug management and prescription mistakes are one of the leading causes of unnecessary hospitalizations and other preventable health-related incidents. This unfortunate phenomenon happens partly because medication management is still greatly reliant upon manual processes. For example, paperwork delays, misunderstandings due to bad handwriting, lack of access to patient history, and misplaced documents, among others, create gaps in the prescription process and usually take a lot of going back and forth to rectify. However, e-prescription applications and software take the manual element away from the prescribing process and automate most of it, making it more reliable and efficient.
Here are the main benefits of e-prescription apps.
As we stated above, e-prescription apps eliminate the need for paperwork and manual labor, which results in greater accuracy. The prescription process is not only fully automated, but there’s no need for manual interpretation of documents or communication hurdles between stakeholders. As a result, the physician and the pharmacy communicate directly and negotiate the terms of the prescription instantly, avoiding life-threatening mistakes and keeping the patient out of the paperwork limbo.
Improved health outcomes
E-prescription apps can improve health outcomes by reducing medication mistakes but also by improving medication adherence. According to The World Health Organization, around 50% of patients do not completely adhere to their medication treatments, leading to chronic disease growth, increased illness rates, and even death. E-prescription apps can effectively help bring those numbers down by assisting patients in tracking their daily doses and viewing their prescriptions. On the other hand, physicians can view unfulfilled prescriptions and send reminders, making the patient accountable and increasing their adherence to their treatment.
Thanks to E-prescription apps, which stakeholders can easily integrate with the existing hospital or medical practice EMR/EHR systems, doctors have instant access to a patient’s medical history. They can see crucial information such as allergies, previous prescriptions, and chronic illnesses, to name a few. As a result, they have all the relevant information at hand to help them design the more appropriate medical treatment for each patient, increasing treatment effectiveness and improving health outcomes.
Rapid refilling Traditionally, the medication refill process can be just as inefficient and drawn out as the prescription process. It is full of paperwork and manual labor that creates hurdles within the system and increases medication non-adherence rates. However, with e-prescription apps, processing refills is just as easy as filling prescriptions.
Reduced healthcare costs All benefits mentioned above lead to significant cost savings for the entire healthcare system participants. From leading to improved outcomes and promoting better medical care to reducing deadly mistakes, boosting medical efficiency, and minimizing unnecessary hospitalizations, e-prescription apps can help hospitals, practices, and pharmacies save significant healthcare costs.
Must-have features of e-prescription apps
Developing an e-prescription app is quite an undertaking. As with any healthcare-related product, you need to not only meet specific regulatory standards and rules; you need to create a product that meets users’ needs effectively. E-prescription apps are used by people whose health status will heavily rely on your application. So, you need to develop a product that makes them feel safe and helps them improve their health status.
Let’s take a look at some of the essential features that a robust e-prescription app must have.
E-prescription apps must provide the patient with their own dashboard where they can securely log in, enter their personal and medical data, make appointments, and see and manage their current prescription details.
Physicians need their own panel that, like patients, allows them to securely log in and use to see patient details, manage appointments, manage prescription details and statuses, get updates from pharmacy software systems, access medication databases, access PBM files, and more.
Similarly, pharmacists need a dashboard that lets them view and manage doctors’ prescriptions, accept or deny them, see patient medical data, and see PBM files, among other elements.
Any healthcare application that collects and transfers patient and medical data needs robust and compliant security features. So, to protect your users and avoid fines and penalties, your e-prescription app must include the following:
- Multi-factor authentication protocols for app access.
- Digital signatures or QR codes to verify patients’ identities during prescription pickups.
- Encryption of all secure communication channels, such as chats or calls.
- HIPAA and GDPR-compliant backend and data storage systems.
- Secure protocols for payment capabilities.
Since one of the primary purposes of e-prescription apps is enabling digital communication channels between stakeholders, it’s crucial for your app to have either a chat system, video or voice call, or an internal platform where physicians, patients, and pharmacists can connect and exchange information relevant to the prescribing and medical care processes.
Integration with a medication database, such as DrugBank, is a non-negotiable part of any innovative e-prescription app. Doctors need a comprehensive list of alphabetically ordered medications with dosage calculators, brand and generic drug names, specialty, class, and manufacturer. This database is crucial to keep e-prescription apps efficient and risk-free and maintain their benefits as practical healthcare tools.
Integration with existing EHR and EMR systems
With the help of an API, you can integrate any EHR and EMR system into your e-prescription app so that your users can access relevant and essential current and historical medical data and can, in turn, make informed accurate decisions. This integration with EHR and EMR systems can help doctors access allergy history, previous treatments, illnesses, reactions, and chronic conditions so they can choose the best treatment avenue for each patient.
Adding payment capabilities can significantly enhance your e-prescription app’s user experience because it allows users to quickly pay for their prescriptions from the app instead of going to the pharmacy and paying there. As a result, adding a payment gateway makes the prescription pickup process straightforward and efficient.
Depending on your research and the type of e-prescription app you’re developing, some of these features may need to be revised. In contrast, others that we should have included can add tremendous value to your product. So, always make sure you conduct thorough research so you can choose the proper features to make your application as valuable as possible for your users.
Challenges of e-prescription apps
As we already discussed, e-prescription apps have the ability to effectively streamline healthcare workflow processes, increase medical care delivery and efficiency, and improve patient outcomes. However, as it often happens with modern technologies, e-prescription apps don’t come without their challenges and limitations that, if not tackled correctly, can hinder their adoption and shadow their benefits.
Here are the main challenges of e-prescription apps.
Shift and interoperability issues
Humans are creatures of habit, and we can’t underestimate how challenging it can be for many healthcare actors to transition from paper-based prescriptions to e-prescription apps. This statement is particularly true in hospitals and practices where staff members are heavily used to and rely on paperwork and outdated management systems. As a result, changing existing workflows and replacing them with an electronic system is extremely difficult. In addition, it can take significant resources and time to plan and train participants to ensure a successful transition. And, if, on top of that, there’s a lack of interoperability with existing EHR and EMR systems or other medical software used by the institution, the shift can become significantly more challenging, and the toll is taken on staff members, and patients can be greater.
As with any mobile healthcare solution, protecting patient data is crucial. Unfortunately, however, that doesn’t always happen. Sadly, healthcare has had the highest average data breach cost of any industry for twelve years in a row. And now, with more practices going digital and taking their operations to the internet, the risk of data breaches is compounded even more. This phenomenon is concerning because e-prescription apps handle large amounts of confidential medical and personal data that is in constant traffic between participants. In that sense, adopting e-prescription apps needs to be accompanied by robust security protocols but also training programs for employees and users so they can learn to enforce adequate security practices on their end.
E-prescription app development isn’t cheap. Implementing, deploying, and maintaining the system necessary to support electronic prescriptions can be too much for most small practices and hospitals and is one of the most prominent entry barriers. Even when clinical practices receive free e-prescription software and apps from government programs, they still need to invest heavily in support and maintenance, training, and upgrading of the interface and making the shift from paper to electronic prescriptions, which can take a toll, especially in small healthcare settings.
Data entry errors
Just because e-prescription apps don’t deal with the misreading errors that can happen with handwritten prescriptions doesn’t mean they’re entirely risk-free. In-app mistakes such as accidental data entry, clicking the wrong patient file, typing the wrong drug name, or clicking on the incorrect item in drop-down menus can occur. So, it is paramount for app developers to continually gather data and feedback to make the necessary user interface updates and ensure a flawless, risk-free user experience.
The COVID pandemic brought forth the need for better and more robust electronic healthcare solutions that fulfilled medical care needs without in-person visits. While some solutions were already on the market, most practices had to fast-track the development of IT-based products to meet the demand for mobile healthcare services. As a result, electronic prescription services have become more popular and widespread, and e-prescription apps are gaining traction as enforcers of faster and better treatment supporters.