HIMSS24: Healthcare continues to make gains in data exchange with 49% jump in electronic prior authorization

ORLANDO, Florida—The industry continues to make substantial gains in health data exchange and interoperability, according to new data released by health information network Surescripts.

At the end of 2023, 1.29 million prescribers were using e-prescribing, a nearly 5% increase from 2022, and 83.2% of these clinicians were also enabled for electronic prescribing for controlled substances (EPCS), according to Surescripts' latest national progress report, released Monday in conjunction with the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) 2024 Global Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, Florida.

Virtually all pharmacies were enabled for both e-prescribing and EPCS, the report found.

Surescripts processed 2.5 billion electronic prescriptions processed in 2023. Among those, 21 million were for specialty medications, a 5% increase from 2022. The company's report is based on data from the Surescripts Network Alliance, which includes nearly all electronic health records vendors, pharmacy benefit managers, pharmacies and clinicians—plus health plans, long-term and post-acute care organizations, analytics vendors and specialty pharmacy organizations, according to the company.

The company's ownership structure is unique—half owned by the National Community Pharmacies Association and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and half owned by Express Scripts and CVS Caremark.

In 2023, Surescripts connected 2.14 million healthcare professionals and provider organizations which conducted 23.8 billion network transactions. Those electronic transactions often replace time-consuming faxes and phone calls with electronic access to information, according to the company.

“The data in this year’s report shows that Surescripts and our partners across the Network Alliance remain unmatched in advancing interoperability at scale,” said Frank Harvey, Surescripts CEO, in a statement. “But it goes beyond the numbers—it's really about what it means for patients and those who care for them, like helping them save money on prescriptions, alleviating provider burnout that can limit access to care, and getting patients needed medications faster.”

There was a 49% increase in electronic processing of prior authorizations in 2023, according to the data.

The report also found that more pharmacists are electronically prescribing medications as responsibilities shift across the care team. E-prescribing by pharmacists jumped dramatically in 2023, up nearly 29%.

Annual growth in primary care providers using electronic prescribing averaged just 1.7% from 2019 to 2023, compared to 10% among non-PCPs. Of those, pharmacists saw the most growth in 2023 with 28.9%, followed by 9.82% for nurse practitioners, 9.79% for hospitalists, 9.77% for general practitioners and 7.91% for physician assistants.

These e-prescribing trends coincide with a growing shortage of primary care providers in some areas of the country. The National Center for Health Workforce Analysis projects that the U.S. will face a shortage of 68,020 primary care physicians by 2036.

According to the report, 62.9% of U.S. counties had fewer than one primary care provider for every 1,500 residents, and 196 had no primary care providers at all. However, a majority of counties (65%) with a relative PCP shortage fell into the middle or top third of counties by pharmacy availability. These counties could pose an especially strong opportunity for pharmacists to help relieve primary care shortages—if they have the right technology, policies and payment models supporting them, according to the report authors.

"By empowering pharmacists and physicians to collaborate, we can help ensure healthcare remains accessible for patients no matter where they live," Harvey said.

Other data points from the report include:

  • In 2023, record locator and exchange capabilities were used by 259,699 clinicians from 59,172 organizations across all 50 states and Washington, D.C.—a 3.8% increase in users from 2022. Together, they found and shared 1.89 billion clinical documents representing 31% of the Carequality interoperability framework’s average monthly exchange activity in 2023.
  • The number of prescribers using real-time prescription benefit increased by 9.8% in 2023, meaning 60% of all e-prescribers on the Surescripts network used the service.
  • When real-time prescription benefit was used to find a less costly medication, patients saw an average savings of $37 per prescription and $785 per specialty medication.
  • In 2023, 881,070 pharmacists, prescribers, payers and other healthcare organizations, including 22,556 pharmacies, used Clinical Direct Messaging to send and receive secure, HIPAA-compliant messages.