Life saving tech: Vic Health deploys real-time high-risk prescription tracker

In 2016, drug-related overdoses accounted for 1,808 deaths in Australia. All were the result of prescription medications.

In a concerted effort to reduce this grim toll and prevent the growing misuse and abuse of prescription medications, the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has announced it will pioneer the deployment of the nation's first real-time, cloud-based, prescription monitoring system. 

Developed by Fred IT Group, a Victoria-based specialist pharma-tech developer, the $30 million program will allow doctors and pharmacists to track the dispensing of high-risk medications in real-time. 

Dubbed SafeScript, the system will be able to automatically detect when a patient has gone to multiple providers for the same medicine over a short period of time, or if they are using a risky combination of medicines that could elevate their risk of overdose. If either of these variables is detected, an automatic alert will be raised with the practitioner or pharmacist. 

As part of the Government's wider harm reduction program, those authorised to provide a medical prescription must also undergo relevant training to support and guide patients when an alert is issued.  

The program is designed specifically to monitor the prescription and dispensing of all controlled (Schedule 8) medicines, including morphine and oxycodone, as well as other higher risk medicines including codeine and diazepam.

While SafeScript was first launched last October – having been implemented in the Western Victoria Primary Health Network service – the Victorian government announced yesterday it had begun a formal staged, state-wide rollout of the platform.

The system is backed by Microsoft's Azure platform and employs Azure Event Hub, Stream Analytics, WebJobs and Enterprise Service Bus to ingest real-time prescription and dispensing data captured via the electronic transfer of prescriptions through eRx Script Exchange and MediSecure.

Data is then stored in Azure SQL, with PowerBI used for further analysis and reporting.

By April 2020, medical practitioners and pharmacists across Victoria will be required to access SafeScript before they dispense or prescribe the monitored medicines.

Matthew McCrone, director of real time prescription monitoring implementation for DHHS, said the new platform will ensure that clinicians have access to prescription information “at the point that they’re needing to make a decision about whether to prescribe a particular medicine or dispense it.”

“We have had things in place for a very long time in Victoria, to regulate these high-risk medicines; clearly, we needed to transform how we go about doing this, in order to prevent these deaths occurring," he said.

“[Preventing] deaths from prescription drug overdose is why we’re doing this. And the way to get there is to help doctors and pharmacists make more informed clinical decisions and thus facilitate safer prescribing and dispensing of these high-risk medicines.”

To prevent an overload of the system, DHHS set a technical requirement for it to be able to support potential use by all Victoria doctors and pharmacists (more than 30,000 clinicians) at any time.

Paul Naismith, CEO of Fred IT Group (Fred) said that the system has also been designed to ensure that information is presented to a clinician or pharmacist within three seconds.

DHHS chief information officer Dr Steve Hodgkinson said the project provides an ideal example of the department’s Platform and Agile approach.

“We have leveraged modern cloud services platforms and existing systems to the fullest extent possible and used agile, iterative, development to deliver early results and to enable the system to be refined based on user feedback,” he said.

“The approach has delivered exceptional results – and now provides a scalable, robust and flexible platform for expansion to become a national system.”

Prior to the deployment of SafeScript, pharmacist and doctors were only shown medications prescribed at one’s own pharmacy or clinic. The new system will offer full transparency for doctors and pharmacists over other medical practitioners the patient has visited for the same medication.