Dec 14, 2020

New digital tool launches to fight US opioid crisis

opioid epidemic
healthcare app
Leila Hawkins
2 min
New digital tool launches to fight US opioid crisis
The tool will enable pharmacists to rate prescribers, and learn about prescribers they haven't worked with previously...

RPhAlly, a digital healthcare platform for pharmacists in the US, has launched a new tool designed to help combat the opioid epidemic. 

The Prescriber Review is a new feature of the existing RPhAlly app, where pharmacists can provide their professional opinion of the clinician who is prescribing in the form of a four-star review. When pharmacists receive prescriptions issued by providers unknown to them, they can use the tool to see how their colleagues feel about the particular provider.

Rates of deaths caused by overdose are high in the US. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that between 1999 and 2018, over 750,000 people died from a drug overdose. In 2018 alone there were 70,000 deaths caused by drug overdoses - the leading cause of injury-related death across the country. Two out of three overdose deaths involved an opioid-like prescription, heroin, or synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

Pharmacists essentially act as gatekeepers for dispensing controlled substances. They are ultimately responsible for ensuring the prescription is legitimately prescribed for a valid medical reason in the usual course of the provider’s professional practice.  

However many pharmacists dispense controlled substance prescriptions without knowing the prescriber or their prescribing habits. The Prescriber Review allows pharmacists to work together to better understand their colleagues’ professional opinions of providers they don't know, and to protect their licenses.

Shawn Bjorndal, founder of RPhAlly, commented: “We created this tool so that pharmacists could have an additional data point to serve their patients better, and make more informed decisions when dispensing a controlled substance.” 

The RPhAlly app launched in 2020, with the aim of allowing pharmacists to connect with each other, and share learnings and information with other pharmacists. It's free of charge, and includes a live feed, a pharmacy specific news feed, pharmacist groups, a directory, and forums. Members can also listen to the Pharmacy Podcast Network from within the platform. The app is available on Apple and Google Play stores. 

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Jun 23, 2021

NHSX releases new data plans, experts call for transparency

3 min
NHSX has published a new strategy for patient data sharing, with experts calling for transparency

Patients in England will get "greater control" over their health and care data according to new proposals set out by the government. 

In a new draft strategy called "Data saves lives: reshaping health and social care with data", Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock says that more effective use of data will deliver better patient-focused care. "This strategy seeks to put people in control of their own data, while supporting the NHS in creating a modernised system fit for the 21st century which puts patients and staff in pole position." 

Under the new plans people will be able to access their medical records from different parts of the health system through different applications, to access test results, medication lists, procedures and care plans. 

The strategy, published by NHSX, the government department that sets policies for the use of technology within the NHS, follows delays to the creation of a central database of patient records amid concerns over data sharing and a lack of transparency, with critics saying that only a small proportion of the public were made aware of the plans and the choice to opt out. 

Kevin Curran,  senior member of The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and Professor of Cybersecurity at the University of Ulster, says that moving health records online raises concerns. "The move to an online app does seem like a natural progression, however there is a difference between having computerised records within our healthcare IT infrastructure and having those records reside on a public facing server. 

"Having records inhouse limits the range and type of access – it's far more difficult for remote hackers" Curran said. "There are techniques that healthcare organisations can use to reduce the risk of future data breaches. One way is to make it ‘opt in’, so patients have the choice to decide whether their medical information is moved to a public facing service so that they can access it. 

"However, those who do not opt in or download the app instead should have their records hosted in a non-public-facing cloud service. This way, if a data breach does occur, those who never used the app, or not wanted to, will not have had their details released." 

The new strategy has been welcomed by some, with an emphasis on the need for transparency.  Adam Steventon, Director of Data Analytics at the Health Foundation, said: "Health data has played a critical role in the last year – from tracking COVID-19 outbreaks and developing treatments, to getting people booked in for their vaccines. It is critical that the use of data is accelerated if the NHS is to tackle the backlog of care and address the massive health challenges facing the country. 

"It is particularly positive that the government has committed to building analytical and data science capability in the NHS and to improving data on social care. To ensure the full potential of data can be realised, the government must ensure transparency on how it will be used and the rights and options people have, as well as engaging with the public and health care professionals to build trust and show people how their data can improve the NHS and save lives." 

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