More than 2 million prescriptions have been processed since the electronic prescribing system went live last July, says Shayne Hunder, programme manager, community eMedicines, for the National Medicines Programme.

Approximately 240 sites are now connected through seven key software vendors.

Hunter says the NZ ePrescription Service (NZePS) emerged from the need to support better management of prescription and dispensing processes in the community.

"This required national integration of GP and community pharmacy systems via an ePrescription 'broker' which enables patients to continue to go to the pharmacy of their choice," he says.

"The NZePS allows prescriptions to be sent from GPs to community pharmacies electronically, and for notifications to be sent to the prescriber when a patient's medicines are dispensed. Patients will continue to take a paper copy of the prescription to a pharmacy, which now includes a barcode that is scanned to download the electronic version.

"The NZePS builds on the NZ Universal List of Medicines and the NZ Formulary to enable end-to-end electronic transfer and management of prescription information. This will support reduction of costs for pharmacists, and will provide the information required by GPs and pharmacists to improve medicines safety and the quality of medicines management. It is a key step in creating trusted information for consumer eHealth."

The NZePS initially covers prescriptions from a general practitioner for dispensing by a patient's chosen community pharmacist. Future plans include capturing prescriptions written when a patient is discharged from hospital, at outpatient clinics, and other community based prescribers.

Hunter says that over time the NZePS will be integrated with other systems to support more efficient payment processes, as well as providing the health system with more information about overall patterns of prescribing and dispensing.

"Over time the NZePS can also provide data to health information portals to enable better sharing and also enabled improved analysis of medicine information."

He says that pharmacists will not need to manually enter prescription information into their systems.

"This will reduce the risk of transposition and other data-entry errors, as well as reducing administration time for pharmacists

"They will receive higher quality prescription information, decreasing the amount of time they spend seeking clarification from GPs.

"GPs will be able to see if their patients' medicines have been dispensed or collected. This will help them monitor patient adherence, and will improve the accuracy of patient records

"GPs will also be able to provide additional information securely to the pharmacist with the electronic prescription, reducing the need for follow-up phone calls.

"In the future, the system will also support the replacement of paper-based controlled drug prescriptions."

Currently, all LOTS pharmacies are submitting electronic dispensing messages. Toniq has connected 50 pharmacies and is continuing to roll out to the balance of pharmacies using its software.

MyPractice has connected the bulk of the GP sites using its solution. Houston has developed its interface to the NZePS for one of its products and live sites are running. Intrahealth has begun development of its NZePS interface for the PC version of its product and plans to add its Mac version at a future date.

Medtech has begun development of its NZePS interface and the first test site is due to go live mid-2014. Rollout to all Medtech sites is expected to take place in the second half of 2014.