E-prescribing growth not as slow as article portrays

The electronic routing of prescriptions from physician offices to pharmacies grew significantly from 2010 to 2011, to judge by the latest Surescripts data. According to an article in the New York Times, a Surescripts report due out in May will show that 36 percent of U.S. prescriptions were transmitted electronically in 2011. By contrast, about 25 percent of all prescriptions were sent online in 2010.

Approximately 326 million prescriptions were routed electronically in 2010, according to Surescripts. A straight comparison of that figure to the 3.54 billion retail prescriptions filled that year would indicate that the percentage prescribed online was only 11 percent. But a Surescripts spokesman told FierceHealthIT that office-based physicians could have transmitted only 1.66 billion new prescriptions and renewals to pharmacies or mail-order houses. That number doesn't include prescriptions for controlled substances, which are about 13 percent of all prescriptions, and couldn't be sent online in many states in 2010.

Doctors and nurses write many prescriptions in hospitals, and an increasing percentage of those orders are placed electronically through computerized physician order entry (CPOE) systems. About 30 percent of hospitals now enable clinicians to prescribe electronically, and about two-thirds of prescriptions in those hospitals are generated electronically, David W. Bates, a Harvard Medical School professor and chief of the division of general internal medicine and primary care at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, told the New York Times.

If 30 percent of hospitals now have CPOE, that would be a major increase. In 2009, according to the Leapfrog Group, only 2 percent of hospitals had fully implemented CPOE, and 17 percent had CPOE in only one inpatient unit.

The Times article focuses on the slow pace of e-prescribing growth in the U.S. and all the errors that could be prevented if it were universally adopted. But the data shows that real progress is being made.

To learn more:
- read the New York Times article
- see the Surescripts report for 2010

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