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December 2021
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Innovation in EMAR

The New Year will see the release of a new function on an EMAR system which is set to be a game changer for care homes and their pharmacies.

For those of you who either work in care homes or in pharmacies supplying their medication, you will be familiar with the monthly repeat medication ordering ritual. Although this process can vary from one care home to another, the experience for all those involved can be anything from inefficient to a full-blown monthly debacle. In all cases, it is time-consuming and laborious and sometimes puts patient safety at risk.

The Ordering Process

If you are not quite sure of what I am talking about, allow me to explain. Care homes typically work on 4-week cycles in terms of medication supply. Around 3 weeks before the cycle begins, care home staff identify the stock that needs ordering and place the requests with the surgery. How the order is placed depends on the surgery; some are willing to accept email requests whilst others require repeat slips to be individually ticked off and handed in personally. For a 30-bed home, this process can take several hours and is made worse if multiple surgeries are involved, each with its own preferences. Many supplying pharmacies offer to manage this process. Although their process is no better, they are willing to sacrifice their time in the interest of supporting their care home.

And this is just the beginning. Surgeries typically take 5 days to issue prescriptions leaving very little time for dealing with discrepancies. Often the prescriptions arrive with many items still missing or items issued which had not been ordered. Doses are changed without explanation and quantities are either excessive or insufficient for the 4-week cycle. Unraveling this mess falls upon the pharmacy staff who frantically go back and forth between the care home and surgery until the discrepancies are narrowed down. Finally, after several man-days have been consumed, the supplies are made to the care home just in time for the staff to book them in before the new cycle starts. In a good month, the pharmacy may get through without having to loan any medication due to missing prescriptions.

EMAR helps

Atlas EMAR was the first electronic medicines management system introduced into the UK. The system helped manage drug administration using barcode technology. As well as improving patient safety and managing stock, Atlas significantly improved communication between care homes and pharmacies through a unique two-way data transfer. In this way, the pharmacy knows the status of every drug and administration at the care home in real-time. Likewise, the care home can see which prescriptions have arrived in the pharmacy. 

Although Atlas has greatly helped medicines management in care homes, and improved efficiencies and communication between pharmacists and care staff, the issues relating to repeat prescription ordering with GPs described above, remained unresolved…

…Until now.

New Atlas GP Integration

Another first, Atlas is soon to become the first EMAR system to have full integration with GP systems allowing care home staff to electronically order their prescriptions directly with the surgery. Instead of sending emails or manually filling out repeat slips, care staff will be able to press one button to electronically request all their patients' drugs from the respective GP system. Essentially, the order will skip the receptionist and go to the doctor for authorisation.

This type of technology has already been deployed in many patient Apps including LloydsDirect, Pharmacy2u, HeyPharmacist, and many more, to help manage repeat orders. However, this is the first time such technology has been adapted for care homes. By their very nature, care homes are not the same as individual patients as care staff manage medicines on behalf of many patients. The Atlas process is designed specifically to allow for a delegate to order on behalf of multiple patients.

The benefits of integration don’t stop just at ordering. Atlas will allow care staff to view the patient’s record on the GP system and ensure discrepancies can be identified early on, rather than at the last minute. Reconciling the GP records against the Care Home record is also a CQC requirement and failure to have an effective process is often the cause of many failed inspections. Atlas is the only system that allows this to be performed digitally.

Care staff will also see when the prescriptions have been issued and track their journey to the pharmacy. Upon arrival, the pharmacist can reconcile the prescriptions received against the original order and get on with the task of dispensing.

The future of technology

Our healthcare system is full of inefficiencies wherever you look. Unfortunately, increasing workload pressures and staff shortages mean that we do not have the luxury to sustain these inefficiencies. Technology has the potential of smoothing out the processes and Atlas’ GP integration is a perfect example of how we can change practice, improve quality and save time for care staff, GPs, and Pharmacists.

Interoperability between systems is a must as we move into an increasingly digital age. Over the last few years, Atlas has also been widening its integrations with care planning systems. The vision is to create a true ecosystem that makes use of shared data across multiple platforms for the common good of maximising patient care through a multidisciplinary approach. With every integration, we get one step closer to realising this vision.

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