Since July 1st 2007, doctors have had a new and more efficient way of prescribing some medications. While most medications that are prescribed by a doctor simply require filling in a prescription form, signing it, and taking it to a pharmacist, there are certain drugs that the government would like to keep a closer eye on to make sure that they are not being overused. To do this, they make doctors acquire an ‘authority’ to use them.
These authorities take several steps. First, it requires a patient to fulfil several criteria. For example, the cholesterol lowering drug Vytorin (which is a combination of two different cholesterol lowering agents) requires a patient to have first been trialled on a single cholesterol lowering drug along with diet and exercise and this has to have been inadequate treatment. The patient also has to have another medical illness such as cardiac disease or diabetes. If a patient meets these criteria then a doctor can choose to prescribe Vytorin.Previously, to gain access to an authority drug like Vytorin, the doctor would have to call up Medicare Australia or the Department of Veteran Affairs (the DVA). The doctor would then confirm that the patient does meet the criteria, and Medicare or the DVA would allocate an individual authority number which would be put on the prescription. As can be imagined, this took up quite a lot of time, made practices inefficient, and some doctors found it frustrating having to go through this process so often for some often fairly common drugs.The new system allows for a much more efficient use of a doctors time. Now, 200 of the 450 items that required authority prescriptions have been ‘streamlined’. This means that for these medications (including Vytorin) a unique number is no longer required, but simply a four digit code that can be found on the PBS web site. This code is placed on authority prescriptions and spares the doctor from having to call anyone.If a doctor wants to prescribe a drug that has not been streamlined, or wants to prescribe a greater quantity or more repeats than is normally allowed, then they still have to call up Medicare. Over time, more medications may be added to this scheme. It is hoped that this new system will allow for a much more efficient use of a doctor’s time, with less time on the phone and more time treating patients. It is also hoped that without the added burden of phoning Medicare, doctors will now be more willing to prescribe streamlined authority medications, allowing more people to have access to their benefits.For more information visit: www.health.gov.au/pbsreform