Detroit — Insurers have been pushing the use of electronic prescribing (ePrescribing) technology for years, but physicians have been hesitant. However, recent survey results show physicians may be more amenable to the idea. The survey of 500 physician practices that have participated in a three-year pilot program demonstrates that a large majority of doctors and their staff who use the technology believe it enables them to practice safer and better medicine.

According to the survey conducted by Media, Pa.-based Haldy McIntosh & Associates for the Southeastern Michigan ePrescribing Initiative (SEMI)—a broad coalition that includes General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler LLC, the United Auto Workers (UAW), Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, Health Alliance Plan, Henry Ford Medical Group, Medco Health Solutions Inc., CVS Caremark Corp., RxHub LLC and SureScripts—three out of four prescribers believe strongly that e-prescribing improves safety for their patients, and nearly 70% say it improves the quality of care.

Past concerns voiced by physicians hesitant to adopt e-prescribing technology include the difficulties and time demands of learning a new technology, and questions over its usefulness, according to SEMI. But, the survey results show the benefits may outweigh the difficulties and time demands. One of the important benefits of e-prescribing cited by physicians is the safety alerts that warn of potentially harmful drug-drug interactions and drug-allergy risks at the time of prescribing. Nearly 65% of physician ePrescribers reported at least one incident of changing a prescription in response to a safety alert received through the system—demonstrating that e-prescribing can help prevent against dangerous and costly adverse drug events.

Some insurers have been trying to educate their provider networks about these benefits. In September 2007, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in New Hampshire and the New Hampshire Citizens Health Initiative, created by Gov. John Lynch, launched a statewide e-prescribing program for every physician office in the Granite State, reports the insurer.
About a year ago Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois announced its plan to expand its e-prescribing initiative throughout Illinois. Indianapolis-based Anthem BCBS also announced it would expand the effort in Ohio. Those efforts are ongoing.

Tufts Health Plan and Neighborhood Health Plan, both Massachusetts-based managed care organizations, and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, along with technology partners Rockville, Md.-based DrFirst Corp. and Dallas-based Zix Corp., formed The eRx Collaborative to promote and enable the use of electronic prescribing in Massachusetts.

The eRx Collaborative recently announced that during 2007, nearly 5 million electronic prescriptions were transmitted through the Collaborative. The program transmitted 8.4% more electronic prescriptions over the same period in 2006.

Nationally, a coalition of insurers, technology companies and health care organizations are working to provide free electronic prescribing to every physician in America. The National ePrescribing Patient Safety Initiative (NEPSI) is the first nationwide effort to prevent medication errors that kill 7,000 people and adversely affect another 1.5 million each year, according to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences, Washington. IOM has called on all physicians to adopt electronic prescribing by 2010.

A key element of the NEPSI initiative is participation by two of the nation's largest health benefits companies, Hartford, Conn.-based Aetna Inc. and Indianapolis-based WellPoint Inc., as well as influential regional payers such as Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey.

Sources: PR Newswire, The eRx Collaborative, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, National eP escribing Patient Safety Initiative, INN archives

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