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The Effects of E-Prescribing

By February 6, 2012Commentary

SureScripts is a joint venture between the large pharmacy benefit managers and many of the nation’s chain and independent drug stores.  The company has a network which connects most physicians, hospitals and other providers with payers, the PBMs, and retail pharmacies to allow for fast transmission of e-prescriptions among the parties, as well as for eligibility and benefit checks.  The system can also facilitate drug interaction checks, limit overuse of painkillers and other products and help avoid duplicate prescribing.  SureScripts has begun to use its network, which really is a powerful, wide-reaching health information exchange, for other purposes, such as lab data exchange.  It released data regarding the benefits of e-prescribing.   (SureScripts Release)

The chain from a physician prescribing a drug for a patient to the patient actually using the drug can be complex.  With a paper prescription, the patient must go to the drug store, drop off the prescription, wait or come back and pick it up, then take it home and use the drug according to instructions.  Many prescriptions must be refilled, often indefinitely, for the patient to get the full benefit.  Abandonment rates, that is, patients not filling prescriptions at all, can be high; and adherence, taking the drug as prescribed, is also often a problem and is difficult to track.  E-prescribing avoids the problem of whether the prescription gets to the pharmacy and may facilitate efforts to ensure the patient actually picks up the drugs, but probably can’t help with actual adherence by taking the drug.

According to SureScripts, there is a 10% increase in patient first-fill adherence if the physician is using e-prescribing.  Among such doctors, the number of prescriptions actually getting to the pharmacy increased from 73% to 82% and the number being picked up went from 70% to 77%.  SureScripts postulates that if everyone used e-prescribing, as much as $140-$240 billion could be saved over ten years.  The release also notes that the primary factor in prescription abandonment is sticker shock; the prescription makes it to the pharmacy but when the patient sees the cost or the copay, they decide not to take the drug home and use it.  E-prescribing can’t do much about that.

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