5 Reasons Your Doctor Should Use Electronic Prescribing

Prescribing in the digital age

Serious doctor working at laptop in clinic office
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Electronic prescribing (e-prescribing or eRx) allows health care providers to send prescriptions for medications to a specific pharmacy through electronic channels, bypassing the traditional written prescription pad. Electronic prescribing is a major advancement in the quality of care offered to patients. More than 1 billion prescriptions were sent electronically in the US in 2013, according to a report by Surescripts.

An electronic prescription has all the elements of a paper prescription, such as the patient's name, medication name (e.g. lisinopril), dose (e.g. 10 mg), route of administration (e.g. by mouth), frequency (e.g. once daily), number of days (e.g. 30 days), number of tablets or capsules (e.g. 30 tablets), and number of refills.

Unlike a paper prescription, an electronic prescription includes the name, address, phone, and fax number of the pharmacy to which the electronic prescription is being sent. This means that the electronic prescription is sent to a specific pharmacy designated by the patient ahead of time. Retail pharmacies (e.g. CVS, Walgreens) and mail-order pharmacies (e.g. Express Scripts) can receive electronic prescriptions.

1) Structured menu of drug names and doses

When creating an electronic prescription, the health care provider does not simply type the information into the computer. The electronic prescribing tool has structured algorithms to help the prescriber select the medication and dose from a menu of legitimate choices.

2) Legibility

The doctor’s terrible handwriting is the butt of many jokes, but it is no laughing matter. If the doctor scribbles illegibly or makes a spelling error on the prescription, the patient could receive the wrong medication or wrong dose, which in turn could cause serious or even fatal consequences. Electronic prescriptions eliminate problems with illegible handwriting. Note that a doctor may still prescribe an inappropriate medication or dose even when using an electronic prescription, but it won’t be an error based on bad handwriting.

3) Prescription recorded in the electronic health record

When the electronic prescription is sent directly from an electronic health record system, the system automatically records the information about the prescription in the patient’s file. This allows health care providers to review the prescribed medications during follow-up visits.

4) Safety alerts

When linked with electronic health records and decision support systems, the electronic prescribing tool can also alert the prescriber about potential safety issues related to the prescription, such as allergies or drug-drug interactions. For example, if the prescriber creates an electronic prescription for penicillin for a patient who is allergic to penicillin, the system will display an alert to inform the prescriber about the allergy before the prescription can be sent. Some systems may also display information to help the prescriber select a medication that is covered by the patient’s health plan.

5) Fast transmission to pharmacy

Another benefit of electronic prescribing is the fast transmission speed to the pharmacy. The pharmacy receives the prescription just a few seconds or minutes after the doctor sends it. That means the pharmacy staff can start working on filling the prescription much earlier than if the patient had to bring the paper prescription to the pharmacy. However, transmission of electronic prescriptions to the pharmacy is not foolproof. Technical glitches do occur. But an electronic prescription cannot be misplaced or physically damaged in the same way that a paper prescription can.

The US government has a large stake in promoting electronic prescribing. The Medicare eRx Incentive Program, part of the Meaningful Use initiative, provided financial incentives for health care systems to use electronic prescribing in 2013. Later phases of the program includes payment adjustments (reductions) for participating health care systems that do not meet the electronic prescribing criteria.

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