e-Prescribing Featured

7:00pm EDT November 25, 2007

Electronic prescribing, also known as e-Prescribing, has been shown to be beneficial to physicians, patients, pharmacies and employers.

Electronic prescribing helps physicians to more safely prescribe drugs to their patients. Depending on the particular application used by the physician, electronic prescribing technologies can provide access to formulary information, a drug reference guide, and drug-to-drug and drug-to-allergy screening information based on the patient’s available records. Depending on the application used, physicians can also send prescriptions to pharmacies.

Smart Business spoke with Bill Berenson, senior vice president of sales and service for Aetna’s Small and Middle Market Business for the North Central Region, about why Aetna supports the use of e-Prescribing and how it can benefit physicians, patients and businesses.

How does e-Prescribing work?

Electronic prescribing is a form of technology that enables physicians to write electronic prescriptions through a hand-held device and then send them to pharmacies. This approach can help reduce medication errors resulting from illegible, handwritten prescriptions and improve the flow of information between a physician and a patient’s health plan, and then between the physician and dispensing pharmacies.

In addition, electronic prescribing applications may provide a physician with access to a patient’s medication claims record and can help the physician to determine whether or not the prescription may have a negative reaction to another drug the patient is already taking. Also, electronic prescribing applications may allow the physician to see a list of preferred drugs under the patient’s health plan so they can prescribe a clinically appropriate medication that helps minimize the patient’s out-of-pocket expenses.

How does an employer benefit from e-Prescribing?

When medical providers have easier access to an insurance company’s particular formulary, they can better recommend drugs that are both clinically appropriate and cost-effective. Electronic prescribing also helps physicians to recommend a drug safely. This can reduce the number of costly visits to the emergency room and time away from work because of bad drug-to-drug reactions.

One of the findings from the pilot program Aetna and Zix Corporation conducted with physicians in New Jersey was a 5 to 7 percent increase in the use of generic and formulary drugs in that state, which can reduce health costs. The pilot program, which began in July 2005, provided 1,000 hand-held devices with Zix Corp.’s PocketScript service to its network providers in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. Results are expected to vary in different markets.

The pilot also resulted in greater access to information at the point of care to help physicians avoid potential adverse drug events.

What value does e-Prescribing bring to physician practices?

The values gained by e-Prescribing are its focus on patient safety and physician satisfaction, both of which can impact medical costs. Electronic prescribing can help health care providers reduce medication errors resulting from illegible, handwritten prescriptions and simplify the prescribing process for participating physicians and patients. It also makes it easier for physicians to prescribe generic or formulary drugs, which can result in significant savings for the patient and the employer. Physicians will also benefit from reduced paperwork and phone calls from pharmacies regarding legibility, lower-cost options and formulary issues.

What are some of the barriers to physicians adopting e-Prescribing?

The biggest challenge is setting up physicians with the technology. It is the role of both the benefits providers and employers to support local and national initiatives to improve access to and adoption of e-Prescribing technology. In fact, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association reported that a broad coalition of consumer, union, business, purchaser groups and other prescription drug stake-holders is asking Congress to make sure physicians use e-Prescribing in Medicare by 2010.

Employers may also consider aligning themselves with the National e-Prescribing Patient Safety Initiative or eRxNow™, a coalition of the nation’s most prominent technology and health care companies who promote the use of e-Prescribing. The coalition will provide free access to secure electronic prescribing for every physician in America.

Aetna hopes that its pilot and other e-Prescribing initiatives will encourage other insurers to see the impact e-Prescribing can have on health care quality, medical costs and physicians, and lead them to invest in e-Prescribing technology.

BILL BERENSON is senior vice president of Aetna’s Small and Middle Market Business for the North Central Region. Reach him at (312) 928-3323 or berensonw@aetna.com.