While e-prescribing grows, obstacles limit widespread adoption

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More than 35 million prescription transactions were sent electronically in 2007, a 170 percent increase over the previous year, according to a report developed collaboratively by the eHealth Initiative (eHI) and The Center for Improving Medication Management.

The report, “Electronic Prescribing: Becoming Mainstream Practice,” offers a detailed examination of the progress made, obstacles that remain and recommendations for helping U.S. prescribers migrate from paper-based prescriptions to an electronic system.

“E-prescribing works and its benefits for many stakeholders are proven,” said Kate Berry, executive director of The Center. “However, education, incentives and implementation assistance are needed.”

At the end of 2007, at least 35,000 prescribers were actively e-prescribing. By the end of 2008, estimates indicate there will be at least 85,000 active users of e-prescribing. While e-prescribing is growing rapidly, the adoption level at the end of 2007 represents only about six percent of physicians. As a result, only 2 percent of the prescriptions eligible for electronic routing in 2007 were transmitted electronically.
Among the challenges listed in the report that limit widespread adoption of e-prescribing technology are:

  • Financial burdens: Physician practices face varying financial burdens related to e-prescribing, including covering the implementation, training and maintenance costs.

  • Workflow changes and change management: Although e-prescribing efficiencies and time savings are gained in the long run, introducing e-prescribing and EHRs can be difficult, time consuming, and requires adequate planning, training and support, particularly in the beginning.

Recommendations to address barriers and move e-prescribing into mainstream practice include:

  • Adoption and effective use of e-prescribing: All prescribers should adopt e-prescribing as it becomes a mainstream model of care, including small practices, small hospitals and long-term care facilities.

  • Replicate and expand successful incentive programs: Align incentives developed by federal and state governments, payors, employers, health plans and health systems.
  • Create a public-private multi-stakeholder e-prescribing advisory body: The e-prescribing advisory body must be created to monitor, assess and make recommendations to accelerate the effective use of e-prescribing, and should be made up of diverse stakeholders across every sector of healthcare.

The full report is available here.