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Report: E-Prescribing Could Save Medicare Billions, Reduce Rx Errors

By CQ Staff

July 11, 2007 – Electronic prescribing could save the Medicare program as much as $29 billion over the next decade and prevent almost two million medication errors, yet many physicians are reluctant to adopt the practice, according to a new report and poll released Wednesday by the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA).

The report, prepared by Gorman Health Group, outlines a series of steps the government could take that could potentially expand "e-prescribing" to cover nearly 80 percent of prescriptions by 2017. They include requiring that electronic prescribing be used for all Medicare drug program prescriptions and offering financial incentives to increase physician participation, which combined would have the largest savings, researchers found. The report estimates that less than 30,000 of the more than 900,000 prescribers in the United States actively use electronic prescribing.

PCMA, a trade group representing pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), also released a survey Wednesday that found while many physicians think that prescribing drugs electronically would reduce medication errors among other benefits, only one in 10 actually use e-prescribing on a regular basis.

Two-thirds of the 407 physicians interviewed said implementing e-prescribing is not a priority, with most citing financial or administrative hassles as barriers, according to the poll, which was conducted by Ayers, McHenry & Associates, Inc.

PCMA said that as Congress considers a $30 billion update to Medicare physician payments, " it should also consider ways to increase physician adoption of e-prescribing in Medicare."

In response, American Medical Association board member Joseph M. Heyman said in a statement that while physicians "are eager to adopt new technologies that have the potential to increase patient safety and quality of care ... hitting doctors with an unfunded e-prescribing mandate at the same time the government plans to cut Medicare physician payments 10 percent next year is untenable." Heyman added that the AMA supports national standards for e-prescribing, but the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has not identified any savings to the Medicare program from the practice.

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