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Letter to the editor

Editor, – In his editorial 'Quality use of medicines - where to next' (Aust Prescr 1998;21:58-9), Professor R. Moulds described his vision of electronic prescribing with the 3 main independent Australian sources of therapeutic and drug information coming together in an electronic version linked to prescribing packages. This is a laudable objective; however, the obstacles to this therapeutic Utopia are more than just technical as has been underlined by Dr J. Dowden in his editorial '' (Aust Prescr 1998;21:59).

There are already on the market several software packages for managing patient files, several drug databases and several electronic prescribing packages. To choose between them, practitioners will have to ask the same questions as when choosing between other traditional sources of information e.g. medical journals. How has the electronic prescribing package been developed? Does it provide reliable, up-to-date, objective information about drugs? Is the information independently derived? Is it sponsored by a drug company? All these questions are important because, if an electronic prescribing package is biased (voluntarily or not), it may adversely influence prescribing practices.

If we really want electronic prescribing to improve therapeutic practices and patient outcomes, it is essential that it be underpinned by high quality independent comparative drug information. This will require the long-term and strong commitment of the government and/or professional organisations. Otherwise, competition from cheaper, but potentially biased, industry-subsidised electronic packages may change the dream of a therapeutic Utopia into a nightmare.

G. Gabb and A. Vitry
Australian Medicines Handbook
Adelaide, S.A.