A federal pilot project beginning in January and running through 2013 will award doctors additional money from Medicare if they use electronic prescribing systems known as e-prescribing.
Purdue University research, this will help deliver safer and more efficient care to patients while also cutting costs.
Under this program, Medicare will give doctors a 2 percent bonus on top of their fee for e-prescribing in 2009 and 2010. In 2011 and 2012, the bonus will drop to 1 percent, and in 2013, the bonus will drop again to 0.5 percent.
"This bonus program encouraging e-prescribing will make the system more efficient, streamline the prescription process and help reduce medical errors," said Vincent Duffy, a Purdue professor of industrial engineering and researcher at Discovery Park's Regenstrief Center for Healthcare Engineering. "When you consider 3 billion prescriptions are written annually, this measure could have a significant impact on U.S. health care."
"Less than 20 percent of physicians currently use e-prescribing, even though more than 70 percent of pharmacies are capable of receiving electronic prescriptions," Duffy said.
Locally, very few of the medical offices polled by the Banner Graphic currently use e-prescribing. Several fax or called in prescriptions and most use a program to print out prescriptions that are then given to patients to take to the pharmacy.
Local pharmacies are set up to receive e-prescriptions as most subscribe to databases that provide the software as part of their drug interaction programs.
Another study found that each year pharmacists make more than 150 million phone calls to doctors to clarify what was written on the paper prescription.
According to the Institute of Medicine, there are 7,000 deaths in the U.S. every year and another 1.5 million Americans are injured every year by drug errors.
"Some of these errors can be traced to handwriting illegibility, wrong dosing, missed drug interactions or drug-allergy reactions," Duffy said. "This area constitutes one of the largest paper-based processes in the United States. The evidence is clear that the writing of prescriptions can be streamlined and made more efficient by using an e-prescribing system."
Medicare officials expect to save up to $156 million over the life of the e-prescribing program in fewer adverse drug events.
The federal law that set up the Medicare prescription drug program in 2006 mandated that participating pharmacies be able to accept e-prescriptions. E-prescribing is simply an electronic way to generate prescriptions through an automated data-entry process utilizing special software and transmissions network that links to participating pharmacies.