A fully electronic medication refill system can provide benefits in both saving time and improving productivity for primary care providers (PCPs), a recent study found.

The medication refill system used by a centralized team from Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group provided the ability to both manage and handle all incoming prescription requests from multiple sources, according to a study published in the Journal of Managed Care and Specialty Pharmacy (JMCP).

After 16 disease-specific protocols were created over a period of time (2011-2014), the pharmacy team was able to take on 80% of the refill requests for all enrolled PCPs.

The pilot phase of this service started in February 2012 with only 1 site and 14 providers. After the first year, it expanded to 5 sites and 43 providers. This phase was completed in March of 2014 with more than 14 sites and 130 providers.

Although there were some challenges with the refill service, it was still found more time efficient than prior PCP processes. This was because the system focused on medication issues instead of disease management.

The medical group used a novel centralized team approach to manage requests from multiple sources. The use of electronic health records and e-prescribing allowed for electronic refill submissions to be placed a central queue that can receive requests from a patient portal that allows patients to directly request refills.

This allows the team to manage the entire refill request process while removing time burdens from staff and physicians.

The refill service involves pharmacists reviewing all clinical information that would normally be reviewed by the PCP for approval. Pharmacists also took on the roles of medication reconciliation, dosage adjustment, and coordination of distribution from external mail order and retail pharmacies.

Data from 2014 showed the refill medication therapy management service reviewed 302,592 tasks related to refills, which resulted in 140,350 authorizations for refills and several interventions regarding the use of medication.

Physicians estimate that this electronic medication refill system saves 20 to 30 minutes per day that would have normally been spent on the review process. This calculation was based on factors such as actual chart review time, amount of time spent on the phone with a pharmacy, and reduction in duplicate refill request from pharmacies and patients.

Furthermore, clinical staff such as nurses and medical assistants, saved time due to a reduction in medication refill tasks and faxes that needed review on behalf of the provider.

“The actual and noticeable feeling of a reduction in work load was quickly evident,” wrote a manager from Quality Resource Management in the study.

This refill system improves productivity, communication between pharmacy members and primary care members, and patient care through medication services. It also allows clinical pharmacists to work to their full potential and give services that normally would be unavailable in stock software, the study found.

Currently, the refill service includes medication protocols for multiple chronic disease states, including: hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes, depression, hypothyroidism, gastroesophageal reflux disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, contraception, allergies, gout, migraines, herpes simplex virus, osteoporosis, erectile dysfunction, and benign prostatic hyperplasia and certain over-the-counter drugs.