Technically speaking, electronic prescribing means transmitting a script from the prescriber’s computer to the pharmacy’s computer through a technology called electronic data interchange. Faxing a software-generated prescription to a pharmacy does not qualify as electronic prescribing.
Even with e-prescribing nearly tripling in 2009, the technology still faces some speed bumps, according to the Surescripts annual report:
- Independent pharmacies have been slower to retool their computer systems for electronic prescribing than the big chains such as Walgreens.
- Only 9 state Medicaid programs by the end of 2009 had made prescription benefit data available to network prescribers.
- Small practices often short on time and money have lagged behind larger practices in digitizing prescriptions.
- The federal Drug Enforcement Agency still bans electronic prescribing for controlled substances. The hassle of having to switch back and forth from computer software to a pad of paper for ordering medications, depending on their class, dissuades some physicians from giving e-prescribing a try in the first place, according to Surescripts.
Although it has yet to become standard practice in medicine, electronic prescribing — aggressively pushed by the federal government — accounted for 18% of all prescriptions except those for controlled substances in December 2009 compared with 6.6% at the end of 2008. Furthermore, the number of physicians, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants who prescribe this way more than doubled in 2009 to 156,000, representing 1 in 4 office-based prescribers.