When allergist/immunologist Melinda Rathkopf's paper-based Anchorage practice began e-prescribing three years ago as a first step toward adopting an EHR, the switch was stressful enough that it contributed to one of her physician colleagues retiring.
There were other headaches, from changing work flows, to debating such decisions as how many computers to purchase for every exam room.
"Work flow was really a challenge," says Rathkopf, who has been practicing medicine at Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska for six years. "Another big one was we had to get a variety of physicians at a variety of ages comfortable."
Another big challenge: getting pharmacies and patients on board. "Three years ago, a lot of pharmacies did not have e-prescribing," Rathkopf recalls. "We still have two or three that I can name off the top of my head that don't have e-prescribing. We still fax to them."
But although the benefits of e-prescribing far outweigh those of using paper prescriptions, most practices will find there are a few important adjustments and safety precautions that must be considered when making the transition.
The case for e-prescribing
Today, an estimated 317,000 office-based physicians (58 percent) actively e-prescribe, according to data released in May 2012 by Surescripts, which runs one of the largest certified e-prescribing networks in the country.
"It's been just tremendous, tremendous growth," says David Yakimischak, chief quality officer and senior vice president, and general manager of e-prescribing at Surescripts. "Physicians are digitizing. With it, the use of computers and technology and information systems is growing extremely rapidly."
It's easy to see why adoption has mushroomed. E-prescribing offers multiple advantages, most notably the elimination of handwriting errors. In a 2010 study of outpatient providers in New York conducted by researchers at the Weill Cornell Medical College, researchers found 37 errors for every 100 paper prescriptions, versus seven per 100 e-prescriptions.
"Physicians are often concerned, but the reality is e-prescribing is more secure than paper prescribing, and even faxing, because the transmission is done through a secure channel," says Tony Schueth, CEO and managing partner for health IT consultancy Point-of-Care Partners. "Hesitations about e-prescribing often stem from unfamiliarity. Common concerns include such things as stealing a password and hacking into a system, and really they're less of an issue than someone stealing a prescription pad."