E-Prescribing Can Save Drug Spending

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

Electronic prescribing systems that enable physicians to choose less costly generic medications for their patients could generate at least $845,000 per 100,000 patients annually in savings, according to an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality study, Kansas Health Institute News reports. The study appeared this month in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

For the study, researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston compared information from the prescription drug coverage plans of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts and Tufts Health Plan over an 18-month period. Researchers compared the change in prescriptions written in three formulary tiers before and after an e-prescribing system was adopted. According to HHS officials, one barrier to physicians' widespread use of tiered systems is the challenge of keeping doctors up-to-date on insurers' formularies because the information frequently changes (Kansas Health Institute News, 12/15). According to the study, 212,000 of the 17.4 million prescriptions written over the study period were filled electronically (Skotzko, CQ HealthBeat, 12/16).


The study found that physicians using e-prescribing with formulary decision support increased their use of generic prescriptions by 3.3%. According to the study, complete use of such e-prescribing systems could reduce prescription drug spending by up to $3.9 million per 100,000 patients annually (Kansas Health Institute News, 12/15). Lead study author Michael Fischer of Brigham and Women's Hospital in a statement said, "Our results likely represent a conservative estimate of potential savings -- as doctors e-prescribe more frequently, the amount saved could increase dramatically."

Ted Epperly, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, said that the study's findings show the low rate of e-prescribing used across the U.S. Epperly said that 7% to 10% of physicians nationwide "truly" use e-prescribing, and about 25% to 35% of physicians use "e-faxing," in which prescriptions are written but printed out on paper. He added that a "reluctance to change" and implementing the technology are among the main barriers to wider use of e-prescribing (CQ HealthBeat, 12/16).

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