Volume of Electronic Prescriptions Continues to Rise

Ken Terry

August 17, 2016

Seventy-seven percent of all drug prescriptions written last year in the United States were digital, according to the 2015 National Progress Report of Surescripts, the nation's leading company that electronically connects physician offices with pharmacies. That's a significant increase from the 67% of prescriptions that were sent online in 2014 and the 58% recorded in 2013, a company news release pointed out.

The percentage of prescribers who wrote and transmitted prescriptions electronically remained at about 58% in both 2014 and 2015, said Paul Uhrig, executive vice president and chief administrative, legal, and privacy officer of Surescripts, in an interview with Medscape Medical News. He attributed the rise in the percentage of prescriptions sent electronically to two factors: increased utilization of e-prescribing technology and increased adoption of electronic prescribing of controlled substances (EPCS).

Uhrig said the growth in utilization was related to familiarity and experience. "The longer that prescribers are on the [Surescripts] network, the greater their usage [of e-prescribing]," he explained.

The number of providers enabled to use EPCS increased 359% in 2015, resulting in a more than 600% increase in e-prescriptions for controlled substances. But, despite this rapid growth, only 6% of prescribers nationwide were doing EPCS at the end of 2015, Uhrig said. By comparison, just 1.4% of providers prescribed controlled substances electronically in 2014, he noted.

About half of the EPCS users on the Surescripts network are in New York, and Uhrig said that that state's EPCS mandate was "a major contributor to the jump" in national EPCS adoption. The New York law went into effect last March after being postponed for a year, primarily because electronic health records' (EHR's) vendors were not ready for it.

The majority of EHRs — including the leading brands — are now EPCS-enabled, Uhrig noted. Moreover, all states and the District of Columbia now allow EPCS, which the US Drug Enforcement Agency green-lighted in 2012. Nevertheless, Uhrig observed, "We find there's still a lack of awareness in the provider community."

Medication Histories

According to the news release, the number of medication histories processed by Surescripts more than quadrupled between 2010 and 2015. The use of medication histories at the point of care "is key to improving the medication reconciliation process and preventing errors," Surescripts said.

The company claimed that its medication histories had saved hospitals more than $400 million and that they had helped prevent more than 25,000 patient readmissions and more than 15,000 adverse drug events in 2015 alone. When questioned about the source of these figures, Uhrig said that they had been extrapolated from research findings and government statistics.

Regardless of how solid these data are, some providers and patients have undoubtedly benefited from medication histories. "Having access to patient histories made us aware of 560,000 extra medications and 13,500 additional allergies last year. This is tremendous with regard to avoiding clinical complications and adverse events," said Erica Neher, clinical interoperability lead, SSM Health, in the press release.

Uhrig said that institutions with a total of 420,000 beds used Surescripts medication histories in medication reconciliation last year. The average acute-care hospital in the United States has about 1600 beds, according to American Hospital Association statistics. If users of medication histories were all that size, about half of hospitals would have employed them. But the Surescripts report doesn't reveal whether large hospitals were more likely than small ones to use medication histories.

Last year, the report shows, the Surescripts network processed 1.4 billion electronic prescriptions, 1.05 billion medication histories, and 15.3 million clinical messages. Prescribers sent an average of 3.8 million electronic prescriptions per day across the network in 2015, the company said.

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