Tufts Health Plan and AdvancePCS release results of electronic prescribing study

Waltham 12 August 2002Tufts Health Plan and AdvancePCS have issued the results of a year-long innovative pilot programme which studied the effectiveness of e-prescribing in physician practices. The co-operative effort involving 100 Massachusetts physicians was designed to measure the value and impact of e-prescribing. Initial results illustrate that e-prescribing effectively improves patient safety and prescribing efficiency, and reduces health care costs. Additionally, the pilot demonstrated an increase in the overall management and satisfaction with pharmacy benefits for health plan members, physicians, and pharmacists.


In a post-pilot survey, 50 percent of respondents reported that use of e-prescribing prompted changes in patient drug therapies to Tufts Health Plan preferred drugs. Tufts HP's three-tier pharmacy plan places generic drugs on the first tier, preferred brand name drugs on the second tier, and non-preferred brand name drugs on the third tier.

In 2001, pharmaceutical costs increased an average of 17 percent in the United States. Given the current rate of use of preferred and generic drugs by its members, Tufts HP estimates that widespread deployment of e-prescribing has the potential to mitigate rising pharmaceutical costs by 2 percent or more.

The statistical data generated through this pilot programme also revealed the following results:

  • an improvement in the efficiency of pharmacy management, with participating medical group practices reporting a decrease in total time spent on prescriptions of up to two hours per day per prescriber
  • a 30 percent reduction in calls between physician practices and pharmacists between two and 10 minutes of time saved per patient, with practices using the device writing an average 6184 new prescriptions per month or 141 new prescriptions per prescriber per month
  • a savings of nearly one hour per pharmacist in a typical day, and
  • in responding to the post-pilot survey, 35 percent of prescribers reported patient care benefits due to the ability to check drug interactions and prescription accuracy.

E-prescribing has a direct impact on the safety of the prescription drug process by eliminating problems associated with hand-written prescriptions and incomplete orders and by being able to check potential drug interactions at the time the prescription is ordered.

Additionally, participating physicians were able to check that patients had properly filled medications, which can be used to prevent serious illnesses and potential hospitalisations. According to a 1999 Institute of Medicine report, medication errors contribute to 7000 deaths annually.

The programme employed technology offered by PocketScript LLC, an electronic prescribing technology company. Each physician in the pilot programme received a PocketScript electronic prescription writer that used a secure, Internet-connected, personal digital assistant equipped with a wireless antenna and software which accesses data from a secured server in the physician's office.

The secure system, which uses one of the most advanced encryption technologies available today (128 bit), provides prescribers with access to their patients' drug histories and a safety feature that enables them to screen for and prevent potential drug interactions. The technology electronically sends computer-generated prescriptions to pharmacies.

Currently, about 15 percent of physicians in the United States use handheld devices for reference purposes and their use is growing rapidly. More details on the pilot programme are available in the VMW June 2001 article AdvancePCS and Tufts Health Plan sponsor PDA-equipped physicians in electronic prescription pilot.

Leslie Versweyveld

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