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Electronic Prescriptions

  • December 28, 2010
  • RPh on the Go

Physicians have notoriously bad handwriting. It can be so bad that it detrimental to patients at times, thus the advent of electronic prescriptions seems at first glance to be a boon in the health field. Electronic prescriptions allow doctors to use their handheld computers, or any computer in the office, to use a drop down menu to send prescriptions electronically to any pharmacy. This is much easier for the patients because their prescription is waiting for them when they get to the pharmacy.

Many physicians sing the praises of electronic prescriptions because of the additional information they can get when using the software. Other medications the patient is on can be visible, drug interactions can light up, and they do not have to worry about a pharmacist not being able to read their handwriting. However, pharmacists have noted several problems with the increasing popularity of electronic prescriptions.

One pharmacist noted that she had noticed more odd errors in prescriptions with doctors who were using this type of software. Apparently, the availability of drop down boxes allows doctors to move too quickly through the drug selection process. Unfortunately, many doctors begin going so fast that they do not notice they have prescribed a completely irrelevant medication that has a similar name to the medication they actually wanted. It is up to the pharmacist to notice this type of odd prescription and verify with the patient and physician. For example, a patient who was in pain might be prescribed Percocet, but when the doctor types in “pe,” he or she may inadvertently click on penicillin. This would not help the pain and could harm the patient if they had a penicillin allergy. When a physician writes out a prescription by hand, he or she is not likely to write down the wrong medication.

Another problem with electronic prescriptions is that not all pharmacies are set up to use them. If a patient’s doctor begins to rely on them exclusively for record keeping purposes, pharmacies would be forced to utilize this technology or lose customers. Congress has even begun talking about implementing a requirement for doctors who want to bill Medicare to use this type of software to make managing records easier. With federal regulations looming, it is possible that electronic prescriptions will soon be the rule rather than the exception.

Is the news about electronic prescriptions entirely grim? Of course not. Pharmacists will see many benefits from the use of this software. Physician handwriting will no longer be a concern. The dosage, frequency, and type of medication will be clear, and customer satisfaction should increase as they are able to walk in and immediately be given their prescription. Electronic prescriptions should also eventually make it easier to communicate with doctors as drug allergy information can be shared between the pharmacy and the physician, along with a list of current medications. Eventually, the technology has the potential to make life easier for everyone. The question is how much improvement is needed to get to that point?

How do you feel about electronic prescriptions? Do they make your job easier, or are they more of a hassle? Have you noticed problems with them?

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