Nationwide E-Mail Prescription System Could Save United States $29 Billion Per Year, Reduce Medical Errors
A nationwide e-mail prescription system, or "e-prescription," could prevent medical errors that stem from illegible handwritten prescriptions and save the nation's health care system $29 billion annually, according to a report released Wednesday by the eHealth Initiative, the Wall Street Journal reports. According to the Massachusetts-based Center for Information Technology Leadership, which contributed to the report, about $2 billion in savings would result from reduced hospital and doctor visits due to fewer errors, while about $27 billion would be saved because of fewer cases of duplication and databases that would inform doctors of lower-priced generic alternatives. More than three million of the 8.8 million incidents of serious illness from drug errors last year could have been prevented, researchers found. CMS Administrator Mark McClellan said that e-prescribing will be important in efforts to increase seniors' access to affordable drugs under the new Medicare legislation. However, McClellan said, technology "has been slowly and sparingly adopted in health care." Many doctors have resisted implementing the systems -- 16% of medical practices currently use electronic prescriptions, according to the Boston Consulting Group -- because of high costs and a possible "initial loss in productivity as the office adjusts from a paper-based to an electronic system," according to the study, the Journal reports. While the costs of an electronic prescribing system would vary from practice to practice, CITL estimates that the installation and maintenance of a system over five years would cost $122,000 per doctor, while a practice of 50 physicians could implement an e-prescription system for as little as $35,000 per doctor. Proponents argue the long-term savings are worth the early investment, pointing to available federal start-up money and the success of one large Kentucky practice that saved $48,000 last year through online prescriptions (Schaefer Munoz, Wall Street Journal, 4/15). The report is available online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.