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E-prescribing set to make doctors' illegible handwriting a thing of the past

Remember the drug charts that used to (and, in some cases, still do) hang on clipboards at the end of a patients' hospital beds?

Medical professionals pacing the corridors with the new technology has arrived. Source: 1 NEWS

Waitemata DHB statistics show its nurses used to spend an average of 30 minutes per shift just looking for misplaced charts.

But those days are almost over at Auckland's Waitemata District Health Board.

It's become the first DHB in the country to equip 2000 of its nurses with pocket-sized iPads that give them quick and easy access to drug charts and other patient information at the simple touch of a screen.

Approximately 500 iPad mini devices have been provided to nurses as part of the freshly rolled out ePrescribing and Administration (ePA) system, which is being progressively rolled out in all DHB's nationwide.

ePA allows medication to be prescribed by doctors at the stroke of a key and administration to be recorded electronically, reducing the potential for human error.

"It's taken a little while for people to get used to them but it's certainly speeding up our drug administration and reducing errors," says North Shore Hospital Cardiology ward nurse Joanne Shirtcliffe.

As prescriptions are clearly typed, it's also making life easier for nurses struggling with the age-old task of deciphering doctors' legendary unreadable handwriting.

"I won't name names, but there were some that were worse than others," says Shirtcliffe.

In the DHB's pharmacy alone, the system has eliminated fax machines, and saved over 450,000 pages of paper each year.

"The iPad prescriptions are legible, easily readable, there's no confusion about decimal points or ten-fold overdoses," says DHB Pharmacy operations manager David Ryan.

Key information once recorded on paper is now stored securely on a server and is fully accessible on the iPads as well as Computers on Wheels (or COWS) that clinical staff take on ward rounds when seeing patients.

Doctors can also access the system remotely to alter prescriptions, whereas previously they often needed to visit the ward in person.

"I can do it from anywhere in the hospital. I can potentially do it from home if I'm on call for example," says says DHB clinical director of geriatric medicine Dr John Scott.

"It's vastly more convenient."

Waitemata DHB says 950 of its beds are now serviced by the new system, with the final 150 to be upgraded next year.