Electronic Prescribing of Controlled Substances Growing

Ken Terry

June 09, 2017

Electronic prescribing of controlled substances (EPCS) is increasing rapidly in the United States, although its prevalence varies significantly from one state to another, according to the 2016 annual report of Surescripts, the company that electronically connects physician offices to pharmacies.

Overall, 45.3 million prescriptions for controlled substances were delivered electronically in 2016, a 256% rise from the 12.81 million controlled substance e-prescriptions in 2015, Surescripts reported.

In 2016, 14.1% of prescribers were enabled for EPCS, 90.3% of pharmacies were enabled to receive controlled substance prescriptions, and 14.1% of controlled substance prescriptions were electronically sent to pharmacies, Surescripts found. At the end of 2015, only 6% of prescribers nationwide were using EPCS, Paul Uhrig, executive vice president and chief administrative, legal, and privacy officer of Surescripts, told Medscape Medical News last year.

The top 10 states for EPCS, in order, were New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Rhode Island, Delaware, Minnesota, Texas, Michigan, and North Carolina.

The fastest progress took place in New York and in Minnesota, which rose from #24 to #7 on the list. These are also the only two states that mandated EPCS in 2016. Maine's new EPCS mandate goes into effect July 1.

In New York, which has had its mandate since March 2016, 98.1% of pharmacies were EPCS-enabled, 72.1% of prescribers were EPCS-enabled, and 91.9% of controlled substance prescriptions were sent electronically, according to Surescripts. Prescriber enablement grew 45.5%, resulting in a 54.2% jump in the number of controlled substance e-prescriptions.

A year ago, only 47% of New York prescribers could use EPCS, and the state medical society expected a bumpy rollout of the new mandate. However, Joseph R. Maldonado, MD, president of the Medical Society of New York State, predicted at the time that most New York physicians would comply with the law. That has evidently proved to be the case.

In Minnesota, where the EPCS law has no enforcement provision, 93.8% of pharmacies are EPCS-enabled, 14.3% of prescribers are, and 19.8% of controlled substance prescriptions are sent electronically.

The Surescripts report also offered some statistics on the e-prescribing of naloxone, which is used to treat opioid overdoses. Last year, 25,143 prescriptions for naloxone were written electronically across the United States. By comparison, physicians and other prescribers wrote 3.71 million prescriptions electronically for oxycodone and hydrocodone, consisting of 307 million pills.

e-Prescriptions Up

Overall, Surescripts handled 1.6 billion electronic prescriptions in 2016, compared to 1.4 billion the previous year. Including medication histories and clinical transactions between providers, Surescripts processed a total of 10.9 billion transactions, up 12% from 2015.

A total of 1.08 billion medication histories were downloaded from Surescripts in 2016, just a tad more than the 1.05 billion reported for 2015.

In 2016, 1.3 million healthcare professionals were connected to Surescripts, up almost 22% from 2015, the company said. That included 64% of prescribers, a 7% increase from the prior year. Ninety-eight percent of retail pharmacies were online with Surescripts last year, which is about the same as in previous years.

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