May 15th, 2009 by Penny Hagerman
When your doctor prescribes a medication, does he or she write out a hard copy—illegible
signature and all—and hand it to you as you exit the office?
Unless you enjoy that long line at the drug store as you wait for your prescription to get filled, or like waiting for days on end for that three-month supply to arrive by mail order, you may be in for a pleasant surprise.
These days, lawmakers and many health insurance companies are urging doctors to stop wasting their time doing things the old-fashioned way—and start making things easier for themselves and their patients.
Instead of writing prescriptions out longhand, they’re asking all but the 70,000 physicians who’ve already converted to go modern and begin prescribing online. They say doing so will help reduce the cost of drug delivery—to the tune of twenty-something billion dollars (with a ‘b’), and eliminate the 1.5 million adverse drug reactions that occur annually.
Here’s how it works. Using e-prescriptions, when a doctor is ready to prescribe a drug, he simply logs in to a centralized service, accesses the patient’s medical records and insurance information, and enters the prescription stats.
Since all patient health records are stored together in one place, the doctor has a more complete view of medical histories and can prescribe the medication that fits each patient best. If there’s even the remote possibility of two drugs interacting poorly—or the patient is allergic to the drug prescribed—the system alerts the doctor immediately so he can choose a different drug.
As more health providers jump on the bandwagon, patients may not have to worry about mistakes like getting the wrong drug or suffering an allergic reaction due to human error much longer. Prescribing medications online removes most of the human element from the equation, leaving the system to make logical deductions based on fact.
In an effort to incentivize doctors to switch to a paperless system, Medicare and some private health insurance companies are now offering payment bonuses, free software and online training to physicians interested in trashing their prescription pads and going electronic instead.
Those insurance companies will benefit too, as the number of health claims filed due to medical mistakes decreases.
Though it will likely take some time, it will be interesting to see whether there’s enough motivation to convince doctors to support e-prescribing.
Old habits sometimes die hard. But at their patients’ and insurers’ urging, e-prescribing is definitely catching on.