Medco Health Solutions survey shows e-prescribing technology as a tool to improve health care

Boston 07 February 2003Boston area physicians are embracing the movement to replace the traditional written prescription system with electronic prescribing or e-prescribing technology, according to a survey released by Medco Health Solutions Inc. e-Prescribing, which uses handheld devices and desktop software to generate prescriptions electronically, is considered a viable tool in eliminating the potential problems commonly associated with the current prescription process, including medication errors, illegible handwriting, formulary compliance, and drug interactions.


Some of the medical industry's leading technology advocates joined with Massachusetts health care organisations, including the Massachusetts Medical Society and the Massachusetts Health Data Consortium, to discuss the latest developments in e-prescribing at a series of meetings held in Boston from February 5-7, 2003.

"The current paper prescription process is placing a heavy burden on the health care system", stated Donna Whiteford, a panel member at the e-Prescribing and Mobile Computing Conference and vice president, Health Businesses, Medco Health. "There are a reported 7000 deaths per year attributed to medication errors, and each year there are more than 150 million calls from pharmacists to physicians to discuss prescription problems. Boston area physicians are showing an ever increasing interest in the benefits of e-prescribing. It may not be long before the prescription pad becomes a thing of the past."

As part of a continuing medical education programme "e-Prescribing: Information Technology Meets the Prescription Pad", provided by Optimal Therapeutics, a service of Medco Health, 73 Boston area physicians provided their perspective on the future of paperless prescribing: increased patient safety, decreased medication errors, and time-related cost reductions.

"e-Prescribing goes a long way in improving patient safety, as well as providing convenience for the patient, the pharmacist and the physician", stated Dr. Thomas Sullivan, Internal Medicine and Cardiology practitioner and president-elect of the Massachusetts Medical Society. While only 13 percent of the physicians surveyed currently use e-prescribing technology, 78 percent of them believe that within the next seven years, more than half of all medications being prescribed will be done through the use of e-prescribing technology.

Seventy-five percent of physicians surveyed ranked reduced medication errors and time savings as the two most beneficial attributes of e-prescribing. Drug utilisation review and access to complete patient prescription history ranked third with 64 percent. Improved physician/patient relationship and reduced costs followed at 44 percent and 40 percent respectively.

"e-Prescribing is first and foremost a boon for patient safety", stated Dr. Michael Gilchrist, a Chelmsford, Massachusetts paediatrician who uses PocketScript technology. "Patients love it, they recognise that it eliminates mistakes and decreases wait time at the pharmacy."

The cost of purchasing and implementing e-prescribing technology was considered by the physicians surveyed to be the biggest barrier to wider acceptance of e-prescribing (81 percent). The length of time needed to learn and use the technology was also a significant factor (40 percent), as was a lack of awareness about the benefits of e-prescribing (22 percent).

88 percent of physicians surveyed said they, or their staff, spend almost one-third of their time responding to phone calls from pharmacies regarding prescriptions. Dr. Azar Korbey, a practitioner of General Internal Medicine and Paediatrics from Salem, New Haven indicated that in a time study of his four physician practice, the average phone call between a pharmacist and practitioner lasted eight minutes and was costing his practice more than $200 per week in wasted staff time.

Dr. Korbey, one of the country's earliest adopters of e-prescribing, using Allscripts technology, stated: "e-Prescribing has all of the pros and none of the cons. e-Prescribing allows us to prescribe patient formulary compliant medication, the best medication at the best price."

Illegible handwriting has often been cited as a reason for pharmacy inquiries and prescription errors. However, of the physicians surveyed, nearly half rated their penmanship as better than average to excellent, while an additional 30 percent deemed it average. About 7 percent described their handwriting as poor.

Medco Health Solutions Inc. is a major provider of prescription health care services, based on the $33 billion in drug spend the company managed for its clients in 2002. Formerly known as Merck-Medco, Medco Health is a wholly owned and independently managed subsidiary of Merck & Co. Inc., and assists its clients to moderate the cost and enhance the quality of prescription drug benefits provided to 64 million Americans nationwide.

The Optimal Therapeutics Programme, a service of Medco Health Solutions Inc., is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME) to provide continuing medical education for physicians. The Optimal Therapeutics Programme has been re-surveyed by ACCME and awarded accreditation for 4 years as a provider of continuing medical education for physicians. ACCME accreditation seeks to assure both physicians and the public that continuing medical education activities provided by the Optimal Therapeutics Programme meet the high standards of the Essential Areas, Elements and Policies for Accreditation as specified by the ACCME.

Leslie Versweyveld

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