Doctors should embrace e-prescribing to reduce opioid use, surgeon says

Physicians seeking to make a positive impact in the opioid crisis should take advantage of e-prescribing, a surgeon recommended, which can personalize prescriptions for individual patients. 

Most doctors already have the infrastructure in place for e-prescribing, wrote Atul Gawande, M.D., a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in an article for the Annals of Surgery. More than 80% of pharmacies are equipped to receive electronic prescriptions, and the vast majority (90%) of physicians use electronic health records, many of which can issue e-prescriptions.

However, just 8% of physicians use the technology.

Embracing e-prescriptions for opioids would eliminate a common problem for surgeons: A lack of clear solutions for prescribing the “minimum necessary” for certain patients, Gawande wrote. Surgeons or physicians may also overprescribe opioids for patients living in more remote areas that cannot get a refill without a written script.

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E-prescribing allows for smaller painkiller prescriptions that meet the needs of a vast majority of patients, and would prevent the use of forged or duplicate prescriptions. It would also allow providers to cross-reference prescribing databases.

Adopting wider use of the technology has already proven feasible, Gawande wrote. New York passed tough controlled substance prescription requirements last year. By the time the regulations were approved, 50% of doctors in the state were already using e-prescriptions.

“Surgeons should strongly encourage and support those efforts, including by advocating with information system managers for the adoption of electronic prescribing,” Gawande wrote. “Wherever possible, we should also encourage the collection of data to determine which practices and system designs are most effective.”