Editorial: E-prescriptions merit support

  • Updated: January 22, 2008 - 6:47 PM

Handwritten Rxs should go the way of the 8-track tape.

For many patients, illegible writing on prescription slips has been a source of wonder and some amusement. How in the world can anyone make out those chicken scratches? Turns out even pharmacists sometimes wonder, too. But prescription mistakes are no joke.

According to the national Institute of Medicine, prescription medication mixups kill nearly 7,000 people each year and injure about 1.5 million.

That's why Congress should pass a proposed measure that would expedite the use of electronic prescribing technology, or e-prescriptions. Some providers have already moved to more electronic record keeping, but others have been dragging their feet. This bill, authored by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., would move the conversion process along by offering grants to help with startup costs to help pay for the technology. The measure would:

• Provide Medicare funding for one-time grants to help doctors offset the costs converting to electronic prescriptions.

• Require all doctors to use e-prescriptions beginning Jan. 1, 2011. As an incentive to switch earlier, the bill funds a 1 percent bonus for every Medicare e-prescription issued. Providers who continue to write Rxs by hand would face a per-claim financial penalty.

• Allow the federal Department of Health and Human Services to grant one- to two-year hardship waivers for rural, one-doctor shops or others with special circumstances that make conversion difficult.

Studies have also shown that of the more than 3 billion prescriptions written each year, roughly a third -- that's 1 billion prescriptions -- require some type of follow-up between providers and doctors for clarifications.

Saving lives and preventing injury through clearly readable. Electronic directives for drugs and dosages is the top goal of the legislation. However, cutting down confusion would also be a major benefit to the health-care system. Think of the thousands of hours that could be saved if even half of a billion follow-up questions could be eliminated.

E-prescription legislation has been introduced before. It has a better chance of passing this year, however, because of broad bipartisan support.

The Senate bill was coauthored by Kerry and John Ensign, R-Nev. The proposal in the House was sponsored by Reps. Allyson Schwartz, D-Penn., and Jon Porter, R-Nev., and is supported by former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

This is a medical advance whose time has come. Health-care providers should move sooner rather than later toward this life-saving, more efficient method of prescribing drugs.


    "E-prescribing will save money, save time, save doctors from piles of paperwork and, most important, save lives.''

    Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass.

    • • •

    "The MMA generally supports moving toward electronic medical records. We're concerned, though, about the administrative costs of reporting for carrot/stick part of the legislation.''

    Dr. James Dehen, president,

    Minnesota Medical Association.

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