I’ve nicknamed my work computer Not Responding because of the ridiculous number of times the message pops up and my work momentarily fades into background as it attempts to reconnect to the network. So, ostensibly, it’s good news that health secretary Matt Hancock has announced plans to upgrade every hospital, GP practice and community care service to high-speed fibre optic broadband.
Apparently community pharmacies will benefit too. According to the Department of Health and Social Care, the upgrade will allow GPs and pharmacists to transfer data “quicker than ever before”. This assumes that communications are currently impeded by the system and not the users.
My experience suggests that speed of communication and patient care could be vastly improved if pharmacies would embrace what is already available to them – for example, having an NHSmail account that they actually use and check regularly, and fully utilising the functionality of the electronic prescription service (EPS).
I have mentioned in other blogs how important having close links with local pharmacies is for patient care. However, it does astonish me how many local pharmacies don’t have a working NHSmail account, which means I can’t share important patient information such as changes to medication via what is a very simple and straightforward system.
I also find it incredible that we get NHS Urgent Medicine Supply Advanced Service (NUMSAS) notifications from pharmacies from non-secure email accounts, when having an NHSmail account is supposed to be a pre-requisite for using the service.
GP surgeries and pharmacies are both integral to increasing uptake of EPS and electronic repeat dispensing, which would not only benefit patient care, but improve efficiency in the system.
Upscaling my practice’s repeat dispensing has been hindered by a lack of training in my local pharmacies, who seem reluctant to take on the challenge. The manager of one pharmacy actually told me that they didn’t think the staff would cope if large numbers of patients went over to electronic repeat dispensing.
Finish with fax
A bold move forward would be to do away, once and for all, with the fax machine. While it is worthy of a special place in the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s museum, it should not still be an integral piece of equipment in seemingly every community pharmacy, many GP surgeries, hospital clinics and out-of-hours centres.
Healthcare’s sentimental attachment to such an outdated piece of equipment encourages bad processes and thwarts technological progression. My surgery got rid of the fax machine a few years ago, but we still get frantic phone calls chasing urgent prescriptions that have apparently been requested by fax. The request won’t have come to us, so who knows where that patient’s personal data has ended up?
It will take more than super-fast fibre optic broadband to ensure that data transfer is “quicker than ever before” and patient care truly reaps the benefits. No matter how fancy the system is, it is the competence of its users that will ultimately define how efficient it is.
The GP Pharmacist is a former community pharmacist working in a general practice