Federal incentives help eRx rate to skyrocket

The rate of physicians who prescribe electronically has skyrocketed thanks to a pair of federal incentive programs, according to new statistics unveiled by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT.

As of this past April, e-prescribing rates via an electronic health record are up to 70 percent of all U.S. doctors since the passage of the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA) in December 2008 and the start of the Medicare and Medicaid EHR Incentive Programs in 2011. Prior to MIPPA's passage, only 7 percent of U.S. providers used e-prescribing.

MIPPA, also known as the "eRx incentive program," provided financial incentives for doctors to use electronic prescribing tools, while the EHR incentive programs required participants to use their EHRs to e-prescribe to meet Meaningful Use standards.

ONC also noted that the uptick in e-prescribing correlated with massive growth of both new and renewal prescriptions sent electronically; while in 2008, 4 percent of such prescriptions were sent electronically, that number rose to 57 percent by 2013.

Research published this time last year in Health Affairs also highlighted the effectiveness of federal efforts to incentivize e-prescribing. In particular, officials from ONC and Surescripts, the health information network that connects disparate parties to each other via their EHRs, said they found "strong evidence" that the incentives succeeded.

"We believe that financial incentives can drive providers' adoption and use of health information technology, such as e-prescribing, and that health information networks can be a powerful tool in tracking incentives' progress," the authors said.

Despite such praise, a recent Medscape Business of Medicine article outlines how a potential weak link in the e-prescribing chain--drug compendia--could ultimately result in patient malpractice claims. Drug compendia, which are swaths of data doctors reference when e-prescribing, often aren't updated  in a timely manner, as EHR vendors receive them only after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration publishes the information first. That latter process itself can be an onerous one, according to the article, and when combined with the fact that EHR vendors might receive such updates periodically instead of in real time, could be problematic.

To learn more:
- here's the ONC brief (.pdf)
- read the Medscape article