Pharmacists prescribe industry portal to reduce errors

The Canadian Pharmacists Association is constructing a massive Web portal of drug information that will eventually support e-prescription and electronic health records systems.

Managers of the e-Therapeutics project say the central

portal, which will be made available to physicians and pharmacists as early as this fall, could contribute to the reduction of medication errors and allow practitioners to report adverse effects to drugs.

“”There’s lots of evidence showing … the right medication is not always being prescribed in the right dose,”” said Janet Cooper, the association’s senior director of professional affairs.

“”We hope to increase access to evidence-based information on drugs, and have it available for pharmacists and physicians so it will improve prescribing and health outcome.””

An Alberta hospital recently experienced the dire consquences of wrongly-prescribed medication when two patients died after they were given potassium chloride instead of sodium chloride during dialysis. High doses of the former can cause cardiac arrest, while the latter is a common salt that helps regulate safe fluid levels in the body.

In the future, if a physician has a patient in their office with hypertension, for example, and they need to look up some information, they will be able to go right from that patient’s electronic record to the therapeutic information on how you manage hypertension, says Cooper. “”(Practitioners) will select the drug, the dose and the electronic prescription could be written (electronically).””

Ottawa’s Canada Health Infoway is working with $1.1 billion to this end, and the provinces are participating, added Cooper.

The association’s portal could also serve as a way for physicians and pharmacists to report adverse effects to drugs, said Cooper, adding the association is working closely with Health Canada on this part of the project.

But the first step for the association is to build content on an open platform so electronic health records and prescribing systems can be easily integrated at a later date. Such content includes the Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialties (CPS), and Therapeutic Choices, a disease/symptom-based text book. Along with these reference tools, the portal will include more than 3,000 government-approved product descriptions, including search capacity and manufacturer information.

Also included will be drug costs and information on whether a drug is on a provincial formulary. If a drug is on the formulary, the portal will tell users if there are any restrictions.

Right now, “”this (information) is not easily accessible to practitioners,”” says Cooper. Next year, users will be able to access the association’s Web portal with PDAs.

Bernard Segal, an associate professor at McGill University’s otolaryngology department, says such efforts are a sign of things to come. “”It will be the wave of the future, where there will be linkages between doctors looking at patients and making requisitions, sending them directly to pharmacy associations,”” says Segal, an advocate of wireless usage in hospitals and head of the Canada-U.S. Task Force on Electromagnetic Compatibility in Healthcare.

The big challenge, however, will be achieving the requisite buy-in by users, which could take a lot of time and awareness-raising efforts, he says.

E-Therapeutics has $8.8 million in federal funding, which ends March 2006. The cash is part of an $800-million federal fund called the Primary Health Care Transition Fund.

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