Electronic Prescriptions on the Rise

05 Jul

An electronic prescription is any sent by computer to the pharmacy of choice. Federal programs offer incentives to physicians to file prescriptions electronically. So why is it that only 36 percent of doctors do so?

Sometimes progress can be slow, but there is and upward trend. That move upwards is being attributed to incentives offered by two federal programs that give physicians rewards for using the technology.

According to an annual report by Surescripts, which operates the nation's largest e-prescription network, about 50 percent of the physicians who take advantage of prescribing medications electronically are cardiovascular specialists, family physicians, or internists.

By the end of 2010, 190,000 physicians were e-prescribing medications. But if you include nurse practitioners and physician assistants that number jumps to 234,000, which is up from 156,000 in the previous year.

While it's estimated that only 36 percent of all doctors do electronic prescriptions it is promising to note that from 2009 to 2010 it increased by nearly 70 percent. One reason the increase isn't even higher is that controlled substances were not allowed to be transmitted electronically until the middle of 2010.

Rewards and Penalties

The federal government is offering incentives for doctors to switch over to the e-prescription model because it has cost-saving benefits similar to any electronic health records. They are more efficient, reduce healthcare costs, and increase patient safety through more accurate transcriptions and communications.

These incentives appear to be working and are in part responsible for the significant increase in e-prescriptions. Under the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act, a law passed in 2009, doctors can receive a two percent Medicare bonus in 2010 if they e-prescribed using approved software. That bonus decreases by one percent in the next two years (2011 and 2012) then drops to 0.5 percent in 2013 and then no longer exists by 2014.

There are potential penalties as well. For 2012, doctors who do not report at least 10 electronic prescriptions in the first six months of 2011 on their Medicare claims, will receive a one percent pay cut.

Another significant incentive was introduced in the 2009 the legislation entitled the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. It authorizes up to $44,000 under Medicare over five years and nearly $64,000 under Medicare over six years for physicians who show “meaningful use” of an electronic health record system, which includes using e-prescriptions.