Prescription E-Labels are Past Due
Now decades into the digital age, most tasks can be completed electronically – ordering food, booking appointments, transferring funds, and even signing contracts. In the healthcare world, medical records and laboratory results can be accessed online rapidly and securely. Technological advancements have made these activities convenient, user-friendly and efficient.
And yet, there are corners of American healthcare that have continued to utilize paper as though the digital option is not available. More than 100 billion pages of paper are printed and distributed as package inserts for medications delivered to pharmacies each year. While this is environmentally wasteful, there are also safety implications with this process. Labels can be revised multiple times a year, and when that change is approved it can take up to a year for the updated paper copy to make it through the supply chain to the pharmacists. The delay can lead to conflicting information being provided to pharmacists and result in erroneous prescriptions negatively impacting the health of patients.
The National Institute of Health manages the National Library of Medicine’s DailyMed website, and has been posting the electronic prescribing information it receives from the FDA since 2005. In fact, in 2014 the FDA recommended that the default method of providing prescribing information be switched from paper to electronic, but the proposed rule has continuously been blocked by Congress. Most providers already rely on real-time electronic updates, as FDA-approved changes are immediately updated on DailyMed. It is not surprising that the physical labels, which are printed so small they are nearly impossible to read, usually get thrown away without a second glance as the most up-to-date information is readily available online.
Moving to a digital form is not just more convenient for prescribers, but for patients as well. If a medication comes with a QR code, the patient can access the updated information and be alerted to any changes or product recalls. They could also use a search function to jump to text with personalized information, augment the font, or watch videos that explain how to administer the medication. The opportunities to engage patients, increase medication adherence, reduce environmental impact and save money are infinite. The time for prescription e-labels is well past due.