Consumer engagement on social media critical for pharmacists’ digital relevance
Consumer engagement at every level must be nurtured, authenticated and encouraged as ‘people are now active participants and use multiple online platforms to find out what other people are talking about with drug trends.’
These were the words of Dr Lynn Weekes, CEO of the Australian based National Prescribing Service MedicineWise (NPS MedicineWise), in her presentation on ‘Empowering Patients through Technology’ during a panel discussion at the 2nd National Pharmacy Conference.
She said the ‘disruption of health services could come from other areas like gamification which is social and thus attractive to consumers.’ She cited as an example Pokemon Go, a mobile game that has captured the imagination of people worldwide. The game gets people outside and exercising and socialising with other players and has resulted in 144 billion extra steps taken by users playing the game.
Weekes called on pharmacists to understand that their role is to ‘discern quality apps’ from everything available on mobile for health monitoring usage, and ‘practise humility’ as health professionals in order to ‘respect and respond to consumer engagement.’
She also recommended that pharmacists investigate the opportunities of drawing on big data collected from consumers using wearable technology (such as activity trackers, fitness trackers, sport swatches, smartwatches, headsets etc.) to track their fitness. The data could give pharmacists a better understanding of the health needs of their patients.
Deputy Director of Law Enforcement at the Department of Health, Griffith Molewa, outlined the proposed amendments to the Medicines and Related Substance Act, 1965. The Act stipulates that ‘every prescription for a medicine must be issued by an authorised prescriber and should be written in legible print, typewritten or prepared with an electronic agent as defined by and in compliance with the Electronic Communications and Transactions (ECT) Act, 2002 (Act 25 of 2002).’
The intention of the proposed amendment is to allow for the digital age and computer generated prescriptions. This implies that a computer generated prescription will be regarded as a ‘data message’, and if there is no mention of the type of signature required, it will mean an advanced electronic signature (AES) is needed. The AES is an electronic signature resulting from a process accredited by the authority as provided for in Section 37 of the ECT Act.
The legal and operational obstacles for pharmacists on the AES include the need to sign an advanced electronic certificate and the need for authentication methodology, both of which are being investigated. There is no final date on the publication of the e-prescribing amendment into law.
Continuing the theme of innovation in pharmacy, nano-pharmaceutics expert Dr Joey Chifamba emphasised the need for pharmacists to embrace adaptive and adoptive behaviour to technology as ‘emerging technologies have created a technological mudslide for the industry.
“Knowledge no longer resides in a brilliant mind, systematic studying or books, but resides in a complex relational pattern of networks brought forth to coordinate human action by emerging technologies which have a capacity to revolutionise the traditional pharmaceutical industry systems,” he concluded.
Director at MRA Regulatory Consultants (medicines regulatory affairs) Mario Botha, spoke on the critical importance of pharmacists embracing social media to connect with consumers and discover better ways to educate their patients. He cited recent coverage by The Huffington Post on the increased use of ‘social media and online discussions by medical professionals to provide evidence-based perspectives on current public health challenges and the provision of continuing education on a global scale through online learning communities’.
The uptake in online technologies by healthcare professionals globally speaks to the ‘increased need for promotion of the spread of information to improve both personal and community health practices,’ he explained.
Botha cautioned pharmacists and other healthcare professionals to be mindful of maintaining certain rules and codes when engaging with patients online. Care must be taken to: maintain professional boundaries; ensure the use of appropriate content, i.e. images, quotes, statements; maintain confidentiality; understand privacy settings online; and be aware of their online image.