Both physician practices and pharmacists recognize the importance of electronic prescribing in terms of patient safety and saving time. However according to a study funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' (HHS) Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), both groups face barriers to realizing the technology's full benefit. The study is published online today in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association.
Electronic prescribing, or e-prescribing, has multiple potential benefits, including helping to reduce the risk of medication errors caused by illegible or incomplete handwritten prescriptions. The study focused on a key aspect of e-prescribing: the electronic exchange of prescription data between physician practices and pharmacies, which can save time and money by streamlining the way in which new prescriptions and renewals are processed.
Physician practices and pharmacies generally were positive about the electronic transmission of new prescriptions, the study found. However, prescription renewals, connectivity between physician offices and mail-order pharmacies, and manual entry of certain prescription information by pharmacists—particularly drug name, dosage form, quantity, and patient instructions—continue to pose problems.
Researchers at the Center for Studying Health System Change, Washington, D.C., conducted 114 interviews with representatives of 24 physician practices, 48 community pharmacies and three mail-order pharmacies using e-prescribing. Community pharmacies were divided between local and national companies.
Physician practices and pharmacies used e-prescribing features for electronic renewals much less often than for new prescriptions. More than a quarter of the community pharmacies reported that they did not send electronic renewal requests to physicians. Similarly, one-third of physician practices had e-prescribing systems that were not set up to receive electronic renewals or only received them infrequently.
Physician practices reported that some pharmacies that sent renewal requests electronically also sent requests via fax or phone, even after the physician had responded electronically. At the same time, pharmacies reported that physicians often approved electronic requests by phone or fax or mistakenly denied the request and sent a new prescription.
The study noted that resolving e-prescribing challenges will become more pressing as increasing numbers of physicians adopt the technology in response to federal incentives. Physicians can qualify for Medicare and Medicaid electronic health record incentive payments by generating and transmitting more than 40 percent of all prescriptions to pharmacies electronically, excluding prescriptions for controlled substances, as part of the HITECH Act of 2009.