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article imageQ&A: Anti-anxiety prescriptions rise during COVID-19 Special

By Tim Sandle     May 3, 2020 in Science
There’s new data about the rise in prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication during the COVID-19 pandemic. To aid people during these times, Dr. Colin Banas discusses the new iPrescribe mobile prescribing app.
Data indicates that the number of weekly prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications by more than 30 percent since the outset of the coronavirus pandemic. This is based on information from DrFirst’s iPrescribe mobile prescribing app. The data also show that weekly prescriptions for medications used to treat asthma and COPD have more than doubled (135 percent) since that date.
These numbers may speak to the anxiety that many are feeling during this pandemic and the social distancing required to fight its spread.
iPrescribe is the free e-prescribing app that allows healthcare providers to quickly and seamlessly write prescriptions for their patients. This is particularly important now, as more doctors are using telemedicine treat patients remotely. To gain an insight into the reasons for anxiety and how the app works, Digital Journal spoke with Dr. Colin Banas, M.D., DrFirst’s VP of Clinical Product Solutions.
Digital Journal: How have anxiety levels risen during the coronavirus pandemic?
Colin Banas: Doctors are reporting that some of their patients are experiencing anxiety during this pandemic. There are so many uncertainties right now and people are facing tremendous disruption to every aspect of their lives. They are concerned about whether they or their loved ones will become ill or die from the pandemic. And they are experiencing unexpected financial burdens and sudden changes in their work status, as well as the stress of being confined and having restricted access to hobbies, friends, and family. In addition, there are growing concerns about access to essential supplies and food. All of these things are taking a toll on mental health.
Preliminary results from a recent study by Thomas Jefferson University found that about 40 percent of respondents are experiencing anxiety to the level that would warrant treatment. This is more than double the percentage of people that typically have an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. This research also reveals that people at lower income levels and those who’ve lost their jobs are feeling greater levels of uncontrolled anxiety than others.
DJ: Has this led to an increased use of prescription medications?
Banas: We are seeing increases in certain prescriptions, including those to treat anxiety. For example, during the week of March 15, healthcare providers using DrFirst’s iPrescribe mobile app wrote 26% more prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications, compared to the same week last year. The increase could be due to a number of factors, including higher levels of anxiety, people being more proactive about asking for these prescriptions, and more prescribers using the app while they are working remotely.
Interestingly, during the pandemic, iPrescribe’s prescription rate for other medications has dropped 13% overall, which may be because some patients are putting off medical treatment or are fearful to venture out to pick up prescriptions. That’s a concern because it’s extremely important that patients with certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, keep in touch with their physicians and take their prescribed medications to avoid potentially serious health problems.
DJ: How is iPrescribe helping doctors during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Banas:Many healthcare providers are working remotely during the pandemic and may not have easy access to their office’s electronic health records (EHR) system, or don’t have one in place. iPrescribe is the perfect solution so that physicians can continue to write electronic prescriptions, which is known to be safer for patients than handwriting scripts or calling them into pharmacies. The mobile prescribing app can be set up within minutes and has the bells and whistles of a full e-prescribing system, including patients’ medication histories, drug interaction and allergy alerts, real-time access to patients’ co-pay information, and a “patient finder” tool that prepopulates information. Doctors can use iPrescribe for both controlled and non-controlled medications and can access states’ prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) databases, as required before prescribing certain controlled substances.
DJ: How can iPrescribe help pharmacies deal with increased demand?
Banas:Pharmacists certainly prefer receiving electronic prescriptions because they are less likely to introduce errors and are more efficient to fill because the scripts go directly into the pharmacies’ electronic systems, which streamlines workflow. It also decreases the need for patients to come into the pharmacy to drop off handwritten prescriptions. iPrescribe allows healthcare providers to safely send prescriptions to pharmacies, even if the providers don’t have easy access to—or don’t have—an EHR. Because iPrescribe displays six months of patients’ medication histories and provides alerts for drug interactions and allergies, it means pharmacists can spend less time reaching out to the prescriber for clarifications and changes. iPrescribe also features secure messaging, which can allow clinicians to communicate efficiently with the pharmacy, avoiding a series of phone calls.
DJ: Why was iPrescribe developed?
Banas:In medicine, we know that writing electronic prescriptions is safer than writing them by hand or calling them into pharmacies. And while nearly all physicians are using e-prescribing systems some of the time, mostly through their practices’ EHR systems, we wanted to make it simpler for healthcare providers to e-prescribe all the time. Physicians are not always in their office when they write or renew prescriptions.
They are often doing this before or after work, when they are traveling between work sites, and even during their lunch time. DrFirst developed iPrescribe to help healthcare providers e-prescribe quickly and efficiently whenever they need to, wherever they are. We paid a lot of attention to making sure the app is very intuitive and powerful. And we are getting a tremendous amount of positive feedback from users who tell us how much they love the app.
DJ: How does iPrescribe differ from other digital prescribing solutions?
Banas:iPrescribe is different from other prescribing apps in ways that make it safer and much more convenient to use. The first thing prescribers see is that it’s free to download and use. Next, users see how quickly they can register and start using the app. Healthcare providers must verify their identities in order to use electronic prescribing systems, and iPrescribe can take care of this in minutes; other systems can take days.
When getting started, users appreciate the “Patient Finder” tool that can prepopulate the app with patients’ demographics, as well as six months of medication history. Having this medication history is a great safety feature, which also enables alerts for potential drug interactions and allergies. Also, iPrescribe makes it convenient to prescribe controlled substances because it provides in-app access to states’ PDMP databases, which must be checked before prescribing in most states.
Healthcare providers can also use iPrescribe to help choose medications that their patients can afford because it provides real-time access to patients’ copay information. And because staying connected with patients, pharmacists, and collaborating clinicians is so important, iPrescribe provides an in-app connection to DrFirst’s award-winning Backline care collaboration platform to enable secure texting and telehealth visits.
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