E-prescribing to soar with new spending

WASHINGTON Mon Mar 16, 2009 2:14pm EDT

1 of 2. Pensioners crowd a pharmacy to pick up their prescription medicine, in the far eastern city of Vladivostok January 17, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Yuri Maltsev

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - As many as 75 percent of U.S. doctors will be writing electronic prescriptions within five years, thanks to new federal spending to encourage e-prescribing, according to a forecast released on Monday.

The economic stimulus bill signed by President Barack Obama last month included about $19 billion to promote the use of healthcare information technology, including e-prescribing.

"Broader health IT (information technology) adoption will create a safety revolution in American healthcare," Pharmaceutical Care Management Association President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Merritt said in a telephone interview.

An estimated 13 percent of U.S. doctors prescribe drugs electronically, leaving the vast majority writing paper prescriptions, according to Surescripts, which operates the largest U.S. electronic prescribing network.

The report projected the figure would increase to 75 percent in five years and to about 90 percent by 2018.

The report, prepared by the healthcare research firm Visante for PCMA, projected that e-prescribing would save the U.S. government $22 billion over the next decade, more than covering the $19 billion in spending in the stimulus bill.

Among other things, the savings would come from increased use of cheaper generic drugs and the prevention of medical errors such as patients getting the wrong drug because a pharmacy misreads a doctor's handwriting, the report said.

Greater use of e-prescribing also will prevent 3.5 million medication errors and 585,000 hospitalizations by 2018, the report projected.

Seventy-six percent of U.S. retail pharmacies can handle prescriptions electronically.

The advantages of e-prescribing -- sending a prescription electronically to a pharmacy -- are widely recognized, but the costs of adopting it have dissuaded many doctors.

The drive toward greater use of e-prescribing and electronic medical records is part of Obama's plans for a sweeping overhaul of the U.S. healthcare system.

In addition, Medicare, the federal health insurance program for the elderly and disabled, in January began to offer financial bonuses to doctors who use e-prescribing.

(Editing by Maggie Fox and Eric Walsh)

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