Doctors, Pharmacists Testify Before House Subcommittee About Merits of E-Prescribing
Encouraging doctors to electronically prescribe drugs could "save time and money and improve patient safety and the quality of care," but there are "many barriers" standing in the way of implementing new prescription methods, according to testimony presented Thursday at a meeting of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health, CongressDaily reports (Rovner, CongressDaily, 7/23). HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on Wednesday outlined the Bush administration's 10-year plan to upgrade the nation's health information technology and establish a system of electronic health records. President Bush in May proposed establishing a national EHR system within the next decade.
Thompson at a recent HHS health IT summit said that establishing an EHR system could save the United States at least $140 billion each year. The Bush administration set aside $50 million for EHR projects in 2004 and included $100 million for such projects in its 2005 budget. CMS Administrator Mark McClellan has said e-prescribing will remain optional for physicians, but the agency plans to press doctors to update their methods (California Healthline, 7/22). McClellan plans to issue standards for e-prescribing, as mandated by last year's Medicare law, within the next few months.
Dr. Jonathon Teich of Harvard Medical School testified that with more than three billion prescriptions written every year, "even a small improvement in quality attributable to electronic prescribing would translate into significant health care cost and safety benefits if electronic prescribing is broadly adapted." Teich added that e-prescribing could save as much as $27 billion in health care costs. However, Teich said that doctors may have little incentive to assume the costs and effort needed to implement e-prescribing systems because "it's largely the health plans who get the savings" from fewer errors and increased efficiency.
Massachusetts cardiologist Thomas Sullivan, who describes himself as a "great fan" of e-prescribing, said that even if hospitals or health plans help defray the costs of the new technology, learning a new system can take time and initially slow productivity. Craig Fuller of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores said his group supported e-prescribing, but if the systems are too complicated or include too many features, "doctors won't even take that first step." Subcommittee Chair Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) and ranking member Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) said e-prescribing records should be designed to be compatible with future comprehensive EHR systems. "Just having prescriptions electronic is only half a loaf," Stark said (CongressDaily, 7/23).