Studies Tout Benefits of Electronic Prescribing, But Adoption Is Slow

Although several studies have demonstrated the benefits of electronic prescribing, only about 36% of all U.S. prescriptions were delivered electronically in 2011, according to a report scheduled to be published in May by the e-prescribing network Surescripts, the New York Times reports.

Benefits of E-Prescribing

According to the Times, studies have shown that adverse drug events are less likely to occur when physicians select medications from a computerized list and transmit the prescription data electronically to a pharmacy. Such a process can eliminate legibility issues or inappropriate directions for medications.

A 2010 study by researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College identified about 37 errors for every 100 paper prescriptions issued, compared with about 7 errors for every 100 electronic prescriptions issued.

Barriers to Adoption

Despite the reported benefits of e-prescribing systems, health care providers face substantial upfront costs to adopt such tools. E-prescribing technology often is adopted as part of a transition to electronic health record systems, which can cost tens of thousands of dollars and disrupt clinicians' workflow.

David Bates -- chief of the division of general internal medicine and primary care at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and a professor at the Harvard Medical School -- said that even after adopting e-prescribing systems, some hospitals give health care providers the choice of whether to use the technology. Bates said, "What one sees often is about two-thirds of prescriptions are generated electronically, but it's hard to get that remaining third converted" (Stross, New York Times, 4/28).

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