Proponents of increased efficiency in healthcare have long been advocating electronic prescriptions, and it looks like they’re about to start making some headway with that goal. Beginning January 2009, doctors who use electronic prescriptions will be eligible for bonuses from Medicare.
Paperless prescriptions are those that don’t involve any print-outs. It doesn’t count, for example, if your doctor writes your prescription on a computer then gives you a print-out, or if your prescription is faxed over to the drugstore. A true paperless prescription is exactly what it says: no print-outs at all.
In 2007 around 35,000 doctors were writing e-prescriptions (although many of these continued to use paper prescriptions as well), and an estimated 70,000 have been using paperless prescriptions in 2008.
For many doctors, the cost of setting up the system is something of a stumbling block, however. A doctor wanting to set up the system will need to spend around $3,000. The hope is that the Medicare bonus will offset the cost and tempt more doctors to use the system. For the next four years, the average doctor can earn a bonus of $1,000 to 1,500 per year by using the system (the bonus is in effect until 2012).
Benefits of E-Prescribing
The benefits of such a plan are wide-ranging. The most significant is in terms of safety. More than 1.5 million are harmed in some way by medical errors every year, some of which result from prescription errors.
An electronic prescribing system can reduce the possibly of such errors occurring in several ways. First, the possibility of a pharmacist misreading a doctor’s handwriting is completely eliminated. More importantly, an electronic prescribing system can flash an onscreen warning if a prescription seems to include drugs that might cause a dangerous interaction with others the recipient is taking, or if the dose seems to be inappropriate.
The hope is that this and other measures to improve medical efficiency and billing systems will result in savings of millions of dollars per year. This is a key part of President-Elect Obama’s plan to reform the healthcare system. Making the move to computerized medical records in addition to prescriptions could mean even more significant savings, as well as vastly improved billing systems.
Another advantage is for the patients, in cases where doctors have a choice of similar drugs to prescribe. Insurance companies tend to categorize their drugs into different tiers, with different levels of co-payment, and an e-prescribing system can alert doctors to the cheaper options for their patients.
Finally, there’s the fact that all of this improved efficiency should mean shorter waits for people getting prescriptions filled. So in this case it looks like everybody wins.
photo credit: gina pina