Demystifying electronic prescriptions

A GP entering electronic prescribing details into a computer.
  27 October 2020  Dr Jeannie Knapp   

By Dr Jeannie Knapp, GP and Primary Health Care Improvement GP Adviser, North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network.

The recent introduction of electronic prescriptions has been a real game changer for my telehealth consultations. Our reception team spend significantly less time faxing or emailing prescriptions – a potential cost saving exercise for the business. On a personal level, I no longer feel like I’m using a forest’s worth of paper each session!

The patient no longer has to wait for the prescription to be faxed or emailed to a pharmacy. At the peak of the pandemic this was approaching 2-3 days for non-urgent prescriptions. Electronic prescribing is simple, immediate, and saves time for everyone.

How does electronic prescribing work?

Option 1: Token

Instead of generating a paper prescription, a token is sent to the patient, either by SMS or email. This links to a QR code that is scanned at the pharmacy, allowing the pharmacist to download the prescription from a secure server.

Option 2: Active Script List

By the end of this year the Active Script List (ASL) Model will also be available in addition to the Token Model. The ASL is expected to overcome the issue of lost tokens and assist medication management and adherence, especially for patients taking multiple medicines. NWMPHN will provide more information on this model as it rolls out in the region.

Does a patient need a My Health Record to be able to receive an electronic prescription?

No. Anyone with an IHI number (everyone with a Medicare or DVA card) can receive an electronic prescription.

What if the prescription has repeats on it?

With a faxed or emailed prescription, the patient must use the same pharmacy to access their repeats. With an electronic prescription the pharmacist sends another token to the patient with the repeat prescription authorisation, which can then be used at any pharmacy (like a hard copy prescription).

What about Schedule 8 and Authority prescriptions?

Both can be prescribed by electronic prescription. For both, you follow the same steps as usual, but for Schedule 8 medicines you will be asked to re-enter your system login details, which acts as a re-authentication. Unlike paper prescriptions, you are not required to hand write on the prescription.

How do I know which pharmacies are using it?

It is vital that the patient takes their electronic prescription to a pharmacy that is also enabled for electronic prescriptions. Unfortunately, there is no freely available database of pharmacies that are using the system. At our practice, we did a simple phone-around of our local pharmacies and placed a small laminated card in each consulting room noting which pharmacies were enabled. One of the national chains has enabled all of their pharmacies – so, currently, if the patient wants an electronic prescription and they are not wanting to use a pharmacy, I suggest they use that particular chain.

Getting started

North Western Melbourne Primary Health Network has published an Electronic prescribing checklist for general practice to help you get started in practice. We will also be contacting your practice soon to help you get connected and to transition to electronic prescribing in your practice. If you require help in the meantime, please reach out to your relationship manager or contact

More information

HealthPathways Melbourne

A new Electronic Prescribing pathway has been published on HealthPathways. Need a login? Request access here.