e-Prescribing and auto-faxing are often mistaken for each other. While the two methods look similar on the surface, there are major differences when it comes to patient safety and workflow efficiency.
Physical distancing, R0 numbers, social circles, virtual visits — throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have adapted quickly to a wide range of new terms and concepts in order to stay healthy. This ability to understand and act on health information is the basis of health literacy.
But there’s a digital aspect to health literacy as well. As more of our daily living happens online, the ability to navigate digital health tools and services is increasingly important for patients and clinicians alike. Gaps in digital health literacy can lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings on both sides, especially as new digital tools are integrated into care delivery.
For example, if a clinician states that they offer “e-prescribing,” it’s important that everyone is on the same page about what that means, since e-prescribing and auto-faxing are often mistaken for each other. While the two methods look similar on the surface, there are major differences when it comes to patient safety and workflow efficiency.
Spot the difference
e-Prescribing is the digital transmission of a prescription directly from an electronic medical record (EMR) to a pharmacy management system (PMS). PrescribeIT®, Canada’s national e-prescribing service, seamlessly and securely enables a physician’s EMR and a pharmacist’s PMS to transmit data between each other. The prescription is sent directly from one to the other, with no intermediary steps or need for manual transcription from the clinician.
Auto-faxes run on the same technology as regular faxes, though information is sent via the internet rather than phone lines. The prescription itself is transmitted to the pharmacy as an image, and that image must then be transcribed into the PMS, just like a handwritten prescription.
No room for error
While a digital image may be easier to read than handwritten instructions, data entry is nonetheless a key point for error introduction. Mistakes entered while transcribing prescription information into a PMS can compromise patient safety and lead to worse health outcomes. Data entry also takes precious pharmacy time away from patients.
Gaps in digital health literacy can lead to miscommunication and misunderstandings on both sides, especially as new digital tools are integrated into care delivery.
What’s more, auto-faxing involves many of the same headaches as regular faxing. Because auto-fax prescriptions aren’t seamlessly travelling from EMR to PMS, they can go astray — all it takes is an incorrect fax number or a receiving fax machine that’s offline or out of paper. At best, that’s an inconvenience for patients and clinicians. At worst, it can delay or prevent patients from getting the care they need.
A smoother process with e-prescriptions
Even if an auto-faxed prescription arrives successfully, auto-faxing lacks other key functionalities of e-prescribing. PrescribeIT® includes clinical communications, allowing prescribers and pharmacists to message securely directly within their workflows. Again, messages are transmitted directly between an EMR and PMS. Questions about dosage and possible interactions can be easily addressed without the need for follow-up faxes or phone calls — as would be the case with auto-faxing. Not only does it make for a smoother process, more efficient clinical communication also enhances patient safety. And this important communication about patient medication is kept within their record.
The differences between auto-faxing and e-prescribing may seem small, but they have a big impact. As we continue to weather the COVID-19 pandemic — and brace for the possibility of a second wave — a thorough grounding in health literacy will be more important than ever. With a solid understanding of the differences between various solutions, patients can be the most effective advocates for their care, while clinicians can be best equipped to deliver it.