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Prescribe drugs electronically? Chances are, you don’t.

Prescribe drugs electronically? Chances are, you don’t.

More than 35 million electronic prescriptions were issued nationwide in 2007, but only 6 percent of doctors wrote them, according to a study released in June by a group made up of healthcare organizations and microchip maker Intel Corp.

The report, “Electronic Prescribing: Becoming Mainstream Practice,” was published by the eHealth Initiative and the Center for Improving Medication Management, which includes representatives from Intel, the American Academy of Family Physicians, Humana Inc., the Medical Group Management Association, and SureScripts, an e-prescribing software maker.

The study shows that 35,000 doctors were actively e-prescribing last year, but those physicians wrote only 2 percent of all prescriptions issued in the year. The Center estimates that by the end of 2008, there will be at least 85,000 active e-prescribers.

“E-prescribing works, and its benefits for many stakeholders are proven,” Kate Berry, executive director of the Center, said in a press release from the group. “However, education, incentives, and implementation assistance are needed.”

The top obstacle to widespread adoption is cost to doctors, according to the report. Investing in more hardware and software, and confusion over whether to integrate the system into their practices’ EHR or buy a stand-alone e-prescribing system make most doctors want to hold on to their paper pads. Workflow disruption is another major stumbling block, the study shows.

The Center offered recommendations to encourage wider use of e-prescriptions, which its backers claim will reduce errors and improve efficiency by speeding renewals.

Recommendations in the report include:

  • Incentives should be developed by federal and state governments, payers, employers, health plans, and health systems to encourage adoption.

  • Termination of the DEA ban on e-prescribing of controlled substances, which accounts for about 20 percent the market. (Less than a month after the study’s release, the DEA was already moving to repeal the ban.)

  • Create a public-private e-prescribing advisory body, made up of diverse stakeholders across every sector of health care, to accelerate the effective use of e-prescribing.

The complete CHT report is available at

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Jennifer N. Lee, MD, FAAFP
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