More than half of community pharmacies face IT outages lasting more than an hour, finds survey

The survey of 250 community pharmacy team members revealed that 56.5% had experienced electronic prescription service or patient medication record systems failing for more than one hour.
pharmacist checking a medicine using computer

More than half of community pharmacy teams have experienced IT system failures at least once within a two-month time frame, a survey by the Community Pharmacy IT Group has found.

The survey of 250 community pharmacy team members found that 56.5% noticed their electronic prescription service (EPS) or their patient medication record systems “failing for more [than] one hour” during the previous two months.

The poll, which ran from late 2021 to September 2022, was designed to gather information on pharmacy teams’ perspectives on their IT arrangements.

More than three quarters (77%) of the survey respondents also said that mobile devices would help with work in the pharmacy, which they said could be used to check prescriptions, carry out patient consultations or be used for dispensing.

Half of respondents (50.3%) said they had no laptop in the pharmacy, while 68% said they did not have access to a tablet device. 

In 2019, two pharmacies in the north of England began using iPads to access summary care records as part of an NHS trial to provide better service quality by “bringing the clinician closer to the patient physically within the pharmacy”.

The survey also found that 83% of respondents would support the goal to move to paperless systems.

Community pharmacists told The Pharmaceutical Journal in 2019 that the EPS has shifted the burden of paper from general practice to community pharmacy, as prescription tokens that are sent electronically to the pharmacist are still printed.

Daniel Ah-Thion, community pharmacy IT policy manager at the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee, said: “As more paperless processes emerge, there should be an opportunity towards streamlining some of the business operations and reducing some of the costs associated with printers, toner, replacement printers, printer maintenance, and other costs associated with paper processing.”

He added that IT problems “can be quite painful and difficult to deal with, which is why contingency planning is so important”.

“Even if things are down for an hour, you have to play catch up, and then do the regular job as well, which is very hard,” he said.

Michael Keen, chief executive officer of Kingston and Richmond Local Pharmaceutical Committee, said that mobile devices and laptops are an obvious benefit in community pharmacies, especially those that may be short on space and help support data collection for audits.

But he raised concerns about using these devices effectively, given the survey results, which highlighted the issues of IT outages and poor mobile phone reception for pharmacists. 

“If the IT goes down, I’m completely stuck,” he said. “And if it’s a business that relies on it [for] the patients and its customer service, it’s something that can decimate them if it keeps going down.”

“Government has said it will tackle poor signal in rural and poor reception areas; the results of this survey show they have not delivered on that target, and that can put businesses at a disadvantage.”

He added: “I think we’re a fairly progressive group of people. So having seen the results of the survey, it should trigger some to say, ‘Good idea, let’s have another look at what we can do to be more efficient’.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, October 2022, Vol 309, No 7966;309(7966)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2022.1.162495

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