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Medicine selection is a bitter pill to swallow


Johannesburg, 03 Aug 2022
Read time 4min 40sec
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Doctors issue thousands of prescriptions every day, but with more the 120 000 active drugs available in SA and up to 20 generic equivalents for each drug, prescribing isn’t as straightforward as it may seem. To avoid this complexity, doctors typically default to the more expensive brands of medicines when writing prescriptions on paper. Founder and Chairman of Healthbridge, Gerrie van Zyl, explains how their latest innovation empowers doctors to make the right drug choice, every time.

Not all drugs are created equal

Due to the sheer volume of drug and generics available, it’s impossible for a doctor to remember the name of each drug. But there’s more to it. For one, cost is naturally a primary concern for patients and patented drugs can be 50%-100% (or more) in price as the generic equivalent. Secondly, the generic equivalent must be equal in efficacy and quality to the patented drug. The only way to prescribe the best option, the doctor would have to spend valuable time researching the generic name of the drug they’re prescribing.

Adding to the complexity is the fact that doctors are under increasing pressure by medical schemes to issue prescriptions using the actual drug name. While most electronic medical records (EMRs) and various apps can be used to search a medicine’s name, it’s distracting and unlikely to be used in front of a patient during consultation. And with waiting rooms full of patients needing to be seen, this option is simply unrealistic.

Issuing accurate prescriptions that ‘beat the pen’

It’s well known that doctors typically prefer the pen to capture clinical notes and write prescriptions because of its speed and immediacy. But paper-based processes have proven to be too limited and flawed for modern healthcare. Healthbridge – SA’s leading clinical and practice management technology partner – has applied the power of AI to make medicine selection faster and safer than traditional methods of prescribing.

By combining AI and big data analytics, Healthbridge has identified what medicines are most prescribed before sorting drug options into categories such as suspensions, capsules, tablets, dosage strength, manufacturers, etc. The system then intelligently ranks and suggests generic alternatives so that the doctor has full control to safely select drugs within seconds.

“What this means for doctors is that Healthbridge Clinical (a custom-built EMR) predicts what medicines the doctor typically prescribes. In addition, dosage instructions are pre-populated based on the most common prescriptions. This is a game-changer for the simple reason that the doctor doesn’t have to leave Healthbridge Clinical to search for medicines on a different system – it’s all in one place,” says Van Zyl.

He continues by saying: “Our mandate at Healthbridge has always been to help private practitioners run more efficient, profitable, and compliant businesses in the increasingly complex world of practising medicine. This innovation uses existing script data together with machine learning to make prescribing medicines safer and, ultimately, faster than the pen.”

Better quality patient care

Doctors have to rely on patients about whether they’ve been following their medication treatment plan and/or any counter-interactions. Ideally, this information, along with prescribed medicines, should be shared between the doctor, patient, the dispensing pharmacy and the medical scheme. But this isn’t usually the case.

This is particularly true for uninsured patients or patients with multiple chronic health conditions who see numerous practitioners. The risk (and potential harm) of ‘polypharmacy’ or taking multiple medications increases substantially. For insured patients, there’s considerable interest from medical aids when it comes to overprescribing or prescribing drugs from the list of medicines the scheme has approved payment for.

“Medical insurers are assessing doctors based on performance-based metrics. Part of this entails prescribing the exact medicine that’s been approved by the scheme. Healthbridge’s medicines selection tool is designed to prevent a doctor from prescribing anything the patient hasn’t been approved for,” says Van Zyl.

“Without interrupting the doctor’s workflow, the system keeps doctors within formulary with real-time alerts. While this is great for the doctor, it reduces errors and ensures better patient safety because they know they are prescribing approved drugs from trusted manufacturers,” says Van Zyl.

Continued doctor-led innovation

After conducting a pilot study of over 100 doctors, Healthbridge Clinical’s medicines selection tool has been released as part of their suite of medical technology solutions.

“The uptake and feedback from doctors has been overwhelmingly positive. And because of growing doctor usage, we now have enough data to safely predict dosage recommendations for 94 945 individual medicines. This amounts to suggested dosages for more than 98% of scripts doctors use on a daily basis,” says Van Zyl.

“Innovation that is useful to doctors is technology that helps them run their businesses and take better care of their patients. Our aim is to provide doctors with the tools that allow them to spend more time with their patients and treat at the top of their licence. Healthbridge’s medicines selection tool is another way we are helping doctors to run their best practice,” concludes Van Zyl.

Editorial contacts
Brand and Digital Manager Liza MacRitchie liza@healthbridge.co.za
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13 Aug
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