The stage has been set for telepharmacy in Ontario, where the government has approved regulations that enable remote prescription dispensing throughout the province.


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Remote pharmacy given the go-ahead in Ontario

March 21st, 2011
PharmaTrust's MedCentre kiosk lets patients interact with a pharmacist via videoconferencing.

TORONTO – The stage has been set for telepharmacy in Ontario, where the government has approved regulations that enable remote prescription dispensing throughout the province.

The Ontario government and PharmaTrust, maker of the MedCentre telepharmacy kiosk, on Friday said the regulations provide the framework for how remote dispensing will occur in the province and mark a historic moment in health care delivery in Canada.

"We are pleased to be creating an environment that allows for the cost-effective and efficient expansion of quality pharmacy services through the passing of these regulations," Deb Mathews, Ontario's minister of health, said in a statement. "Remote dispensing makes it more convenient for people — especially those in northern and rural areas — to get the medications they need, when they need it. It's also a tremendous opportunity to move forward with Ontario-made technologies that better serve pharmacy customers while also being safe and cost-effective."

Specifically, the Ontario legislature approved amendments to the Drug and Pharmacies Regulation Act (DPRA), passed in December 2009, that allow prescriptions to be dispensed via remote dispensing technology without a pharmacist being physically present. Under the DPRA, pharmacies must be accredited by the Ontario College of Pharmacists (OCP) and meet certain operational standards. One requirement is that prescription drugs must be dispensed under the direct supervision of a pharmacist who is physically present in the pharmacy.

The OCP also has been given the authority to set requirements for remote dispensing locations and technology, subject to approval by the government, and it's responsible for accrediting, monitoring and enforcing the regulations for new drug dispensing technology. For example, the OCP handles enforcement of the types of drugs that may be dispensed remotely, such as prohibiting narcotics or other controlled substances to be provided that way.

With the new regulations, a pharmacist must be available at the time the prescription is submitted by the patient in order to review and approve the prescription, monitor the dispensing and counsel the patient. Pharmacy technicians, when supervised by a pharmacist, can fill a prescription remotely.

Through technology such as PharmaTrust's MedCentre, pharmacy staff perform the same pharmacy services they typically provide but through a virtual medium. The experience is designed to mimic an in-person visit to a brick-and-mortar pharmacy. Patients consult in real time with an off-site pharmacist via a videoconferencing session through in the kiosk, and they insert the prescription into the machine, where it is scanned and validated by the pharmacist. The pharmacist then authorizes and supervises the kiosk as it dispenses the drug once the prescription is verified.

PharmaTrust's MedCentre kiosk uses advanced robotics, scanning and videoconferencing to link patient in real time to a pharmacist in another location, providing live, face-to-face interaction. MedCentre takes a digital scan of a prescription, counts out or selects the appropriate medication, and then releases it to the patient. The process is controlled remotely by the pharmacist at the other end of the videoconference. According to the company, MedCentre can dispense more than 2,000 types of medications, including prescription drugs and over-the-counter medicines.

"The Honourable Deb Matthews, Ontario Minister of Health, and the Ontario College of Pharmacists have shown immense vision and a clear commitment to the citizens of Ontario through the creation and passage of these regulations," stated Don Waugh, chairman of Oakville, Ontario-based PCAS (Patient Care Automation Services), the parent company of PharmaTrust.

"Demand for access to high-quality pharmacy services are growing due to an aging population and new innovations in pharmaceutical care. This comes at a time when pressures on the health care system to deliver services in a more cost-efficient manner have never been higher," Waugh noted. "The MedCentre allows pharmacy owners to extend their reach without the significant capital costs associated with brick-and-mortar pharmacies, and this is good news for patients who require greater access to pharmaceutical care."

The Ontario government said the new regulations enabling remote pharmacy dispensing are part of its Open Ontario Plan to support innovative technology while expanding access to health care services.

In January, PharmaTrust reported that the National Research Council of Canada's Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) will provide funding of up to $300,000 for the development of its MedHome device, which leverages technology from MedCentre.

Designed to promote medication adherence, MedHome dispenses unit doses to patients at preset times and provides patient monitoring and reminders to help ensure patient health and safety. PharmaTrust said the in-home technology also allows patients to connect with a pharmacist, doctor or caregiver at the touch of a button.

Plans call for NRC-IRAP to support software and engineering development to deliver a working MedHome prototype. PharmaTrust said that NRC-IRAP in 2009 announced a $1.5 million contribution to support the development of a telepharmacy, primary care platform and advanced manufacturing techniques and technology by the company.

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