Paperless prescriptions on the way?

January 1, 2009

Where the US leads, we often follow – however reluctantly sometimes. Now the latest buzz in the states is the move towards online prescriptions and the end of that familiar pad. But just what is a paperless prescription? It’s when your doctor inputs your prescription into his email and it gets emailed straight to your chosen pharmacy. It could benefit us as patients as you would not run any risk of losing the piece of paper and theoretically should as it could be there waiting for you when you leave the surgery. The other great advantage is that electronic prescribing systems can flash an alert if the dose seems wrong or patient records show use of another drug that can dangerously interact.

Up to now there has been a lot of resistance by US doctors to online prescribing – only 10% are currently signed up for it – that may be about to change. Medicare will give doctors who go over to online prescribing bonus payments from January but are warning that they will only do so up to 2012. After that any doctors who insist on sticking with their prescription pads will find their Medicare payments cut. It’s a move that has the backing of President-elect Barack Obama as his health-reform plans are based on saving millions of dollars a year by moving to computerized records for everything, including medical charts and not just prescriptions.

The Medicare incentive has encouraged a lot more doctors to sign up, and it will be interesting to see if we follow their lead. The US experience seems to indicate that electronic prescribing can also save money by doctors using more generic, and therefore cheaper, drugs but this system has two major drawbacks: up to last year in the US there were still 27% of independent pharmacies who did not have internet or email access and doctors also must use software recognized by the network. This has led to doctors printing out their online prescriptions and then faxing them to pharmacies who don’t have the right access or equipment. That doesn’t sound like a system that is saving time or money, but it could be the shape of things to come.


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