Pharmacy’s digital future

European Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (EPSA)

A pharmacy student’s view on digitalisation and eHealth in community pharmacies across Europe

Digitalisation has become an inseparable part of the modern world. It affects many aspects of our lives including healthcare systems.

These days, 100% of pharmacies in Europe are computerised and a stable internet connection is a crucial element of pharmacists’ work, as electronic prescriptions are replacing traditional paper prescriptions in the majority of European countries.

In my opinion, this results in a wide range of benefits such as ensuring the authenticity of the prescription and identification of the prescriber, improved integration with patients’ health records and minimising dispensing errors. It also reduces the time needed for administrative duties, which allows pharmacists to dedicated more time to patients.

Electronic prescribing is not the only digital trend in European pharmacies. I am seeing more and more countries introducing mobile apps that help patients to organise their medication. These apps include pharmacy locators, which enable the user to find the nearest pharmacy, vaccines schedules, reminders about taking medicine, and medication guides with videos or photos that help patients to better understand the use of their medicines.

We can’t forget about the role of digitalisation in fighting falsified medicines. In February 2019, the European Medicines Verification System (EMVO) was introduced to guarantee the authenticity of medicines through end-to-end verification.

Medication manufacturers are required to print a 2D Unique Identifier code on each box of medicines. It includes a product code, batch number, serial number of the single pack and the expiry date.

Manufacturers are obliged to upload the information for each medicine they produce into the European Hub operated by EMVO. Then community and hospital pharmacies verify medicines at the end of the supply chain by scanning the codes.

The medicines verification system shows information on whether the package code matches the one provided by the manufacturer. If the system shows a warning and the data do not match, the package cannot be supplied to the patient.

For me, looking at all these digital tools, the big question is whether pharmacists are receiving the support needed to use them. I can tell you that pharmacy students are keen on technology but are offered too little training.

According to a study carried out by EPSA in 2018, the vast majority of pharmaceutical students recognise the role and the importance of eHealth and digital skills in aiding pharmaceutical professionals to adapt faster to changing circumstances, optimise treatments and lower the burden on healthcare budgets, as well as taking advantage of technologies.

Moreover, around three-quarters of respondents claim to have had barely any education on eHealth and more than half do not become aware of the topic during their studies.

EPSA has been constantly advocating for implementing eHealth and digital skills in the pharmaceutical curricula. In the past, we organised four of our congresses on a topic related to eHealth and digital skills and fostered two debates in the European Parliament during the Annual Reception in Brussels.

In addition, in 2019 we released a Position Paper on eHealth and Digital Skills in which we emphasised the need for implementing it during our education.

As we mark MedTech Week 2020 – which this year focuses on the use of digital technologies and solutions– we must not only look at ways to remove any existing barriers, but to also provide better education to healthcare professionals so they can harness the benefits of digital health technologies.

I am confident that digital technologies will be central to our work as the pharmacists of the future. We need the skills and tools to get the most from these innovations.

Piotr Nawrocki, Policy Affairs Coordinator, European Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (EPSA)

He is also a 5th year pharmacy student at the Medical University of Warsaw, Poland.

The European Pharmaceutical Students’ Association (EPSA) is an umbrella organisation representing over 100,000 pharmacy and pharmaceutical students from 36 countries across Europe. The mission of EPSA is to actively engage at student and professional level, bringing pharmacy, knowledge and students together. EPSA develops a consensus of opinion between European pharmaceutical students on issues relevant to the pharmacy profession.