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Why e-prescribing is crucial

Why e-prescribing is crucial

Ben Hamburger is CEO of CIC member Script Assist, a medical cannabis prescription platform enabling doctors and clinics to effortlessly prescribe.

As the CEO of a digital medical cannabis prescription platform, I’d love to say that we knew the Government’s decision to allow electronic prescriptions for all Schedule II and Schedule III Controlled Drugs was imminent, but as with the rest of the market, if we’re being honest, the news landed like a season finale plot twist on an ITV cop drama, with the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) the unlikely hero.

The truth is that we shouldn’t be that surprised. The current hard copy pink FP10PCD system is so intricate and clearly unsuited to the demands of a bourgeoning medical cannabis industry, that even a cursory cost / benefit analysis from central government would have provided a pretty clear answer.

As an industry however, we’re so used to working within a frustrating taboo-led paradigm, both from central government but also banks, lenders, regulators etc…, that any decision that doesn’t single out medical cannabis as being “different,” feels so incredibly welcome. It just so happens that this decision opens a whole new world of possibilities.

Challenges with the FP10 system

At Script Assist we’ve seen the challenges with the current FP10 system with our noses pushed right up against the glass. We’ve supported over 50 independent prescribers in applying for their FP10s, and (as with everybody else) manage the daily grind of ensuring that hard copy prescriptions are snail-mailed.

So, what does this mean for the UK’s medical cannabis industry? Well, firstly, it means the rate at which new prescribers can join the industry can be greatly increased. Not only does the FP10 process drag on a new doctor’s limited time availability, it also regularly sends blood pressure levels sky-high. Many a well-meaning, interested doctor has been lost on the journey to receiving their first pink pad through the post.

For patients it means an entirely different experience is possible. Today, assuming no MDT, patients receive their medication from Script Assist within 72 hours of payment being made via the Patient App. With electronic prescribing, a Script Assist patient living in London, Manchester or Birmingham will be able to request a repeat via the Patient App and receive same day delivery (assuming no MDT was required, and the doctor or clinic chose to “one-click represcribe” on the day the request was made)!

Let’s be very clear, the medical cannabis market needs to be able to compete with the illicit market on access, product quality, price and service. All these elements need to be in place for the UK medical cannabis consumer value proposition to be properly established. Same and next-day delivery is a critical component of this.

Visibility of patient records

Alongside the now seemingly imminent advent of electronic prescribing for medical cannabis, a quieter yet equally as important battle has also been fought and won by several market participants (Script Assist included). When patients typically see specialists in the UK, that specialist requires visibility of the patient’s medical records, and needs to maintain contact with their GP, largely for good order and almost never before the consultation.

Medical cannabis remains “different” however in this respect. It has become standardised in the industry for doctors to have access to the patient’s medical records before the first consultation. In a paper-based world this means patients and clinics engaging with individual NHS GP practices to try and get hold of their medical records. Not a task for the faint of heart.

Wondrously, NHS Digital has accepted that patients should be allowed to access their own medical records for the purposes of sharing them with a clinician, prior to potentially being prescribed medical cannabis. This means that medical cannabis patients will soon be able to have access to their medical records digitally and share those with their doctor or clinic. Another huge barrier to growth removed.

All in all, a combination of the frightfully pragmatic decision from the UK Government to enable electronic prescribing, combined with NHS Digital opening to medical cannabis companies throws an entirely new light on the growth prospects for the UK’s medical cannabis market.

ACMD announcement on CBD

These sensible moves by central bodies with relation to the medical cannabis industry are unfortunately starkly contrasted with the announcement that the UK Government will also accept another suggestion of the ACMD’s (seemingly desperate to shed its hero guise), to reduce the recommended daily dose of CBD from 70mg to 10mg. At least nobody could ever accuse the UK Government of under-regulating the CBD industry.

What remains to be seen is exactly how the government will implement the decision to enable electronic prescribing, both regulatory and technically. It is going to mean, for example, that many more companies are going to need to integrate with NHS Digital. Another process certainly not for the faint of heart.

The sooner the better of course, but the direction of travel for both Script Assist and the medical cannabis industry seems ever so clearer after this announcement and ends with same-day delivery, and an end-to-end journey measured in days and weeks, rather than months and quarters!

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