Active Ingredient Prescribing to become mandatory from 1 February

Matt Woodley

18/01/2021 4:00:05 PM

GPs have been reminded to update their clinical software in order to continue issuing legal prescriptions.

Pharmacist looking at prescription with patient.
Patients may experience some confusion initially if the active ingredient replaces their normal medication’s trade name.

The incoming changes mean that GPs must use active ingredient names when prescribing medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and Repatriation PBS (RPBS), rather than the brand name of a medicine.
The change is intended to help people understand what medicines they are taking and to reduce the risk of people accidentally taking multiple doses of the same medicine under different names.
Other benefits include allowing pharmacists to easily dispense an alternative generic medicine if the patient’s usual brand is unavailable, and a potential reduction in out of pocket costs to patients and the PBS via the increased uptake of generic medicines.
Dr Rob Hosking, Chair of the RACGP Expert Committee – Practice Technology and Management (REC–PTM), told newsGP while the legislation is not new – having been delayed 12 months due to COVID – GPs will still need to take steps to ensure they are prepared come 1 February.
‘All the GP software vendors have made the appropriate changes, but GPs will have to update to the latest version of this software for it to be a legal prescription,’ he said.
‘I have heard some concerns about some users updating software, and having problems with the latest versions of the software. I suggest those people need to talk to their software provider to get help in finding out why they’re having problems.’
While helpful to pharmacists, Dr Hosking said patients may experience some confusion initially should a different medication name appear on the prescription to what they are normally used to.
‘I think most GPs will have had experience with patients who were dispensed different generic versions of the medication that they have prescribed. Patients can get confused by that and end up either taking multiple medications of the same thing, or not taking it at all,’ he said.
‘The problem is the names are large and difficult to pronounce, and that’s why trade names are sometimes used in preference because they’re often shorter and easier to say.
‘The pharmaceutical companies have done a lot of research in trying to find easy to pronounce catchy names. But unfortunately, that leads to the problem of confusion when you’ve got multiple versions of the same medication out there.’
The length of active ingredient names also presents another issue – fitting them all on the prescription itself. For this reason, medicines with four or more active ingredients are exempt from the new legislation, as are: 

  • Handwritten prescriptions
  • Paper-based medication charts in residential aged care settings
  • Non-medicinal items without active ingredients, such as dressings and nutritional products
  • A small number of items that have been specifically excluded from active ingredient prescribing.
‘Ultimately, it’ll probably be something we’ll all get used to and we’ll all be happy with,’ Dr Hosking said.
‘There will be confusion and concern amongst patients [initially] when the name of the medication comes out differently on their prescription … [but] active ingredient prescribing is a way of making sure that everybody’s on the same page, because we’re all prescribing the same chemical.
‘It [also] really highlights that you need to keep up with the latest version of your software.’
The RACGP has more information on Active Ingredient Prescribing changes here.
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Dr Christopher Charles Newall   19/01/2021 10:57:18 AM

First of all, thanks to the Australian Government and the RACGP for the very short notice regarding this profound change. Well done again!!
This has not been handled quite as badly as the changes in opiate prescribing!
If the only reason for changing prescribing is solely to avoid rare duplication of medication, I don't think that this justifies the enormous confusion that this change will result in.
Is it a way to encourage GP's to write more prescriptions as "private" to further displace health costs to the public?