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e-Prescribing: Some Considerations

Posted on February 13, 2012 I Written By

Priya Ramachandran is a Maryland based freelance writer. In a former life, she wrote software code and managed Sarbanes Oxley related audits for IT departments. She now enjoys writing about healthcare, science and technology.

I’m always in the mood for stories, which is why I love the Cases and Commentaries section on the AHRQ WebM&M site. There’re a bunch of February posts up there but the one that caught my eye was one titled E-prescribing: E for Error?

The case involved a 63 year old man who went in to see his primary care physician. He was receiving psychotherapy, but was still prone to anxiety. The PCP prescribed him alprazolam for the anxiety. Since the clinic had just implemented a new e-prescribing system, the doctor assured the patient that he didn’t need a paper prescription and just needed to show up at pharmacy and pick up his order.

So far so good.

Back at the doctor’s office, a nurse entered the presribed medication into the practice’s shiny new system, except that she inadvertently added an order of atenolol, intended for a different patient, to this patient’s order. She soon realized her mistake and deleted the atenolol order.

When the patient went to the pharmacy, he was given both the alprazolam and the atenolol, which he thought was odd, since he had been prescribed only one medication. However, he just went ahead with taking both medications per the directions handed to him by the pharmacist, and it was only a few days later, during an appointment with a cardiologist that the mistaken atenolol addition was finally identified.

Fortunately, the patient lived to tell the tale, which we all know is not the outcome in some sad cases. Elisa W. Ashton, the author of this Cases and Commentaries piece, has some great points listed as her takeaways from this case. Here are mine:

It’s too soon to say goodbye to paper. I worry about trees more than the average Jane, but if there’s a ever a case to be made for a paper prescription, here it is. A paper prescription would’ve shown up the double prescription both to the nurse, as well as the patient, making it less likely to make it to the pharmacy.

It’s not clear who/what failed. Did the nurse realize delete the wrong entry only after she transmitted the patient’s prescription? Did the prescription software trule delete the medication or simply mark it as flagged for deletion?

– This accident happened on a newish system, perhaps users were not as familiar with it as they should have been.

If you think something’s odd about your prescription, speak up. As patients many of us tend to assume that doctors know best. However, doctors are as human as everyone else, no matter how many initials tag along before or after their names. You don’t have to be obnoxious about it, it’s perfectly fine to verify politely with your doctor’s office if the additional (or missing) medications are necessary.

– Bravo to the eagle-eyed cardiologist! It was great someone caught this error in time, though I would much prefer that some kind of check system be built into the e-prescription system to prevent errors of this sort.

Go check out the post on AHRQ.

A Report on ePrescribing Challenges

Posted on November 28, 2011 I Written By

Priya Ramachandran is a Maryland based freelance writer. In a former life, she wrote software code and managed Sarbanes Oxley related audits for IT departments. She now enjoys writing about healthcare, science and technology.

From the Center for Studying Health System Change (hschange.com) comes a study on e-prescriptions, and how providers and pharmacies work together to electronically transmit and fulfill prescriptions. Now, I don’t know how reliable this organization or its research is (the .com in its name, for example, is something that bothers me. Also the report focuses almost exclusively on SureScripts). But the study is interesting to me for what it reveals statistically.

HSChange.com conducted 114 phone interviews with 24 physician practices, 48 community pharmacies, divided between local and national companies. The national respondents included 3 mail-order pharmacies, and 3 chain pharmacy headquarters. Those of you who are interested in the numbers, the methodology and other sundries, go ahead and read the report in its entirety. Here’s a quick summary from the report’s results the rest of us. My comments are bolded.

According to the report:
Two-thirds of the practices sent at least 70% of their prescriptions electronically. Which means about 46.2% of the prescriptions are e-prescribed. Plenty of room for growth, methinks.

Pharmacists at more than 50% of Community said their pharmacies received less than 15% of their prescriptions electronically. The reasons: providers didn’t transmit electronically, or sent out computer-generated prescriptions by fax or mail. Interesting – could be indicative of either lack of knowhow, or infrastructure that allows for e-transmission.
New prescriptions are more likely to be e-prescribed than prescription refills (renewals). The report states that many pharmacies don’t use this feature in order to avoid SureScripts fees for renewals.

There are plenty of inefficiencies. E.g. a) multiple requests for the same prescription were sent (say by phone, fax and through SureScripts) by pharmacies b) providers mistakenly deny prescriptions and then re-send the same prescription as a new one.

E-prescribing to mail order pharmacies is a different process – (apparently providers need to be Surescripts certified to e-prescribe with community pharmacies, and also need to be certified to e-prescribe to mail order pharmacies. So, even when a provider selects a mail order pharmacy to fulfill an e-prescription, the prescription is delivered by fax to the the mail order pharmacy by Surescripts.)
Prescription specificity falls on the provider – tablets, capsules, and liquid formulations might have different costs. Pharmacists can’t change the prescription from a capsule to a tablet on their own, without consulting with the prescribing provider. This might result in unexpected costs.
Providers’ patient instructions are still incomprehensible! Pharmacists often have to play translator (maybe because as the report alludes to, the instructions are intended for pharmacist eyes, not the patient.)

an independent pharmacist explained, ‘A lot of times we can’t copy the directions word for word because the patient doesn’t understand them, just like with paper prescriptions. We have to go in and erase ‘t.i.d.’ and put in, ‘One tablet three times a day’.’