E-prescriptions are now part of everyday healthcare in Greece.

UM – 10/2021

It took some lead time

Electronic prescriptions became mandatory in Greece as early as 2012. However, this only applied to doctors. Patients still had to visit the practice to have their prescription printed, stamped and signed. Resistance from professional groups, data protection concerns, interface problems with health insurance system and not least, the system’s overall sluggishness meant that the project took another eight years to become part of everyday care.

A tailwind from the coronavirus crisis

Electronic prescriptions have been available in Greece to a significant extent since March 2020. This was based on a law that included measures for limiting the spread of COVID-19 and it also stipulated introduction of paperless prescription of medications. The more technically demanding transition to paperless referrals for diagnostic tests was completed shortly afterwards. The COVID-19 pandemic acted as a catalyst here and this was the statement by the WHO (World Health Organisation) in a publication released by its European regional offices ("Greece - Transforming primary healthcare during the pandemic").

The digital offer is voluntary

Before the crisis, only the providers of basic medical care were allowed to use the digital tools for select remote consultations. However, in the wake of the pandemic emergency, regulations covering the use of telemedicine have been relaxed. The decision as to whether a personal visit to chronically ill patients was needed was left entirely at the doctor's discretion during the summer of 2020. The issuing of follow-up prescriptions without a personal consultation was officially permitted. Patients are free to avail the service if they want.

The pandemic has changed the motives

The initial reason for introducing the electronic tools in 2012 was the conviction that electronic monitoring of doctors' prescription practices in the Greek state health system would save costs. It was implemented under the impact of the 2010 financial crisis and an enormous budget deficit. The objective was to reduce unnecessary contacts in 2020 as they were being made under the impact of the coronavirus crisis. The electronic way became obligatory. Simple as well. The patient receives a code with each electronic prescription or referral and it can then be used to retrieve the medication or implement the referral. Pharmacists and laboratories are given access via an online platform.

The electronic services are well received

The project took time, but it is now a great success in a healthcare system that had previously been known for its underfunding, lack of transparency and shadow economy in recent years. Almost 2.4 million insured people in Greece have used the electronic tools between their launch in March 2020 to July 2021. Paperless prescriptions and referrals accounted for about one-third of the total during the summer month of July. 

E-prescriptions are no longer a rarity ...

E-prescriptions have been established for some time in other Member States such as Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Sweden, Spain and the Netherlands. Germany is in the middle of the introduction process and use of the app is currently limited to the Berlin/Brandenburg test region.

... cross-border still the exception

Cross-border e-prescriptions can only be used in very few cases. Greece is also a participant in the voluntary infrastructure for electronic cross-border health services (eHDSI). The e-health infrastructure also makes it possible to exchange electronic patient records in addition to e-prescriptions, e.g. when travelling to other EU countries. Both services are to be phased in by 2025. So far, only seven countries are actively participating. Only four Member States are involved in exchanging e-prescriptions. Greece is not yet one of them. Finland and Estonia kicked things off in January 2019 with the cross-border exchange of e-prescriptions (click here for more information).