More than one-third of dispensed prescriptions sent electronically in 2011, report finds


ARLINGTON, Va. — The number of prescriptions being sent electronically jumped by 75% between 2010 and 2011, while almost all of the retail pharmacies in the country are connected for e-prescribing, according to a new report by the country's largest e-prescribing network.

According to a report scheduled for release Thursday, Surescripts found that the number of pharmacies connected to the Surescripts network has become almost total. Nearly 57,000 retail pharmacies — out of the 62,461 chain and independent pharmacies in the country overall — are connected to Surescripts' network, compared with 46,000 in 2008. The current figure represents more than 98% of chain pharmacies and 79% of independents.

In all, 570 million prescriptions, or 36% of the total, were routed electronically by prescribers to pharmacies by the end of 2011, compared with 326 million, or 22% of the total, in 2010. Meanwhile, 58% of office-based physicians were e-prescribing in 2011, compared with 1-in-10 in 2008.

The report also showed an improvement in medication adherence due to e-prescribing, with 76.5% of electronically routed prescriptions being picked up, compared with 69.5% of those sent through traditional means, with a "consistent" increase in first-fill adherence of 10%, creating potential savings of between $140 million to $240 million over 10 years.

"This remarkable growth in adoption and use has transformed one of the most common transactions in health care into a mainstream electronic healthcare tool," Surescripts president and CEO Harry Totonis wrote in the report. "Electronic routing of prescriptions on the Surescripts network accounted for more than 1-in-3 prescriptions that were picked up by patients at community pharmacies. As states implement e-prescribing for controlled substances … these new types of transactions will drive additional use of e-prescribing."

One major contributor to growth is government incentives for electronic health records and e-prescribing under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health, or HITECH, Act, which is providing up to $30 billion in incentives for prescribers who adopt electronic health records and meet the government's "meaningful use" requirements. According to the report, of a cohort of physicians who adopted and began using e-prescribing in 2008, as many as 60% of them have met the initial stage of meaningful use, while 38% would meet the proposed second stage; e-prescribing is one of the core objectives of stage 1 meaningful use, which requires a provider to route more than 40% of prescriptions electronically. So far, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has doled out almost $4 billion in payments to providers and hospitals.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that the incentives for adoption of electronic health records are given out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The incentives are granted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The story has been corrected.

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