Computerisation to iron out kinks in doctors' handwriting

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 May, 2007, 12:00am

In the computer age, handwritten prescriptions in hospital wards look like a relic of the past, and the Hospital Authority's chief pharmacist is working to get rid of them.


Lee Pak-wai said hospital outpatient clinics had been using computerised prescriptions for almost 10 years and he hoped resources would be allocated in the next few years to extend this to the wards.


In the clinics, doctors type the prescriptions into a computer system that can be read by pharmacists, reducing the chance of mistakes due to unclear handwriting.


But doctors in inpatient wards still write prescriptions on paper which are sent to the pharmacies, which deliver the medicine to the nurses who distribute it to patients bed by bed.


'I hope, in the next five to seven years, more resources will be allocated to computerise the prescribing system in the inpatient wards to enhance the efficiency as well as the accuracy,' Mr Lee said.


Mr Lee also expected to introduce more automatic dispensing machines in pharmacies to relieve the workload of dispensers. Some public hospitals have installed machines, which look like vending machines, which store a number of drugs and can count the pills and package them after receiving an order.


He stressed that automating the dispensing process would not mean the laying off of dispensers. On the contrary, he hoped the dispensers could do more value-added tasks and share the pharmacists' duties. At present the Hospital Authority employs about 300 pharmacists and 800 dispensers.


Mr Lee has also worked on developing professional services provided by pharmacists. Two of the targets are clinical pharmacy and medication counselling services.


In some large hospitals, such as the Prince of Wales, a trial scheme is under way in which pharmacists and doctors pair up to visit patients in wards together.


The two professions can discuss the best medication for the patients. 'Of course, pharmacists will not participate in the diagnosis because it is the profession of the doctors. But in respect of drugs, pharmacists should be able to provide good opinions to the doctors because we are the profession in this field,' Mr Lee said, adding that the ultimate goal was to provide better care to patients.


In some large hospitals the pharmacists would do follow-ups to check patients' adherence to medication by face-to-face or phone consultations, which can significantly increase the compliance rate in taking medication and cut waste of drugs.


He admitted it would be difficult to implement the two schemes extensively because of lack of resources and manpower.


Yet he is determined that computerisation and professionalism are the two big directions for pharmacies and staff in the future.