Drug approvals go online

Electronic approval takes seconds, not weeks

Web services and XML are being used to implement a much faster process for the approval of risky or expensive medicines by local health authorities — a system said to be ahead of most in the world.

Health Minister Pete Hodgson visited the Karori Medical Centre in Wellington for the formal launch of the system with Peter Moodie, medical director of Pharmac, who used to be a general practitioner at the Karori centre.

The electronic “special authority” is intended to replace a much more cumbersome form-filling system required before certain medicines can be approved.

For example, Moodie says a patient on one type of cholesterol-lowering medication which is not having the desired effect can be upgraded to a more expensive type, but only if the patient’s doctor testifies to their past treatment, their continuing high cholesterol levels and other pertinent data.

With the online special authority system, this information can be given and an automatic reply obtained from the computer system at the Ministry of Health’s HealthPAC unit in as little as 15 seconds.

The manual form-filling system typically takes two weeks and requires a lot of human attention. Any mistakes in filling in the form have to be corrected, lengthening approval time. Validation of data entered online, by contrast, is immediate.

The new system, naturally, works to the benefit of the patient, who gets needed medicines more quickly. But, it will also accumulates valuable statistics on the need for such medications and the way they are being prescribed.

The system has been linked with the popular MedTech practice management system (PMS), so patient data need not even be re-keyed. Filling in the form is largely a matter of ticking boxes. Other PMS vendors are likely to link their software in, but the special authority system can also be operated through a simple web interface, though this requires patient data to be keyed in each time.

About 1,300 doctors are already using the online system and putting through 2,500 applications a month, Moodie says.

The introduction of online special authorities required a rationalisation of several digital certificate systems which have been in use by medical practices. But this change was probably overdue anyway, Pharmac executive Jan Quin says.

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