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What is Electronic Prescribing?

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  • Written By: V. Saxena
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 01 December 2016
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Electronic prescribing refers to a digital process wherein a patient’s prescription information is electronically transmitted from a physician’s office directly to a pharmacy. It was established during the first decade of the 21st century as a way to combat the multitude of deaths that were occurring because of prescription-related issues. These included incorrect dosing as a result of ambiguous nomenclature, misinterpreted directions stemming from poor handwriting, and missed drug-to-drug or drug-to-allergy reactions.

In particular, electronic prescribing allows a physician to issue a completely accurate and error-free prescription that’s easy to read and safe to follow. E-prescription software suites also typically include a drug utilization review (DUR) program that automatically compares the patient’s information — current medications, known allergies, weight, gender — against whatever medication is being prescribed. This helps further reduce the chances of a dangerous or even fatal error occurring.

In addition to reducing mistakes, electronic prescribing also streamlines the process of issuing a prescription and having it filled. Prior to the launch of e-prescriptions, for instance, patients would have to manually deliver a prescription from the physician’s office to a pharmacy, and then wait to have it filled. Electronic prescribing eliminates the wasted time and the wasted paper. It also makes it easier for a physician to issue or renew a prescription — the process merely entails a click of the mouse.

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Electronic prescribing also reduces the hassle faced by physicians and pharmacies alike. According to the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), a not-for-profit organization concerned with improving healthcare in the United States, 30 percent of all prescriptions issued in 2010 required a call-back. With e-prescriptions, such call-backs are almost always unnecessary, because all of the information is readily available for the pharmacist filling the prescription.

Another advantage of electronic prescribing is that it makes it much simpler for government healthcare organizations to track and monitor pharmaceutical usage. This is important in that queried data — such as the number of patients using a certain medication, the number of times a specific physician has prescribed a certain medication, etc. — make it easier to build and maintain thorough reports. This, in turn, helps these agencies better enforce government healthcare regulations.

The greatest advantage of an e-prescription system is that it leads to improved patient satisfaction and compliance. Part of this is because electronic prescribing means less wasted time for the patient. Another component of this is that the physician has more time to dedicate to his or her patients. By streamlining the prescription process, e-prescribing reduces a physician’s overall workload. This translates to a physician having more time to dedicate to the business at hand — diagnosing and curing people suffering from an illness.

While e-prescribing has been shown to have many benefits, it also has some drawbacks. Errors, while fewer than with traditional prescribing, still occur, causing delays, frustration and potential health risks. Some controlled substances cannot be legally prescribed without a doctor's signature. The cost of purchasing the equipment necessary to begin e-prescribing can also be a barrier to its implementation, though long-term savings are thought to offset the initial outlay to a large degree. Lastly, some patients object to their entire medical history being captured in a computer database for relatively easy access.

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