Phasing out doctors' prescription-pads

August 7, 2008 9:34:09 PM PDT
Dr. Mitchell Marder, a family doctor in Northeast Philadelphia, admits doctors, including himself, notoriously have bad hand-writing. It can lead to errors at the pharmacy.

"I've never had that problem, but it's definitely happened in the past to other doctors when the wrong prescription is filled or the wrong dosage," he said.

There are 1.5-million prescription errors each year. Those errors can land some patients in the hospital; They can also be deadly. Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz also said the errors drive up healthcare costs. So now new legislation, written by Schwartz and passed under the Medicare bill, will soon require all doctors caring for Medicare patients to prescripe electronically, or e-prescribe.

Dr. Marder already uses the technology. The device looks like a PDA. Some e-prescribing software checks which medicines are covered by insurance, most double check the doctor's order. "Every time I prescribe something it'll tell me any possible interactions," Dr. Marder said.

All doctors need to get started is the device with software and an internet connection. Patients won't get a paper script to carry. Instead, the prescription will be sent like an email to their pharmacy. Schwartz said the government will pick up the tab for the device and doctors will get monetary bonuses for using it the first few years.

"It's good for the physician, good for the patient and it's good for all of us because we're paying for healthcare," Rep. Schwartz said.

But whether it's good for all pharmacies is still up for debate. Most pharmacies pay about 20-cents for each e-prescription transaction. As more doctors start to use the technology, those costs will build.

"It's a concern down the line definitely," said pharmacist Jim Reginelli of Nisenholtz's Pharmacy.

Still, he said he is optimistic problems will be worked out. He likes e-prescribing because it saves time for him and for patients. Your prescription can already be at the pharmacy before you even leave the doctors office. Plus, Reginelli said the network is secure and it helps prevent fraud. "It's not going to be a situation where anybody but that specific physician will be able to transmit the prescription to the pharmacy," he said.

Under the new law, Medicare doctors will have until 2011 to get started. After that they could face penalties. Schwartz calls this a first step in helping to prevent errors and save money. "And be able to use those dollars to help expand access to healthcare in this country," Schwartz added.

The new law applies to Medicare patients, but will likely expand to all adults as doctors begin using the new technology. Heavy narcotics are excluded.

Experts say this is a first step towards going to a total electronic medical record but that is much more expensive and difficult to implement.