As of 2009, Medicare reimbursements to doctors who send prescriptions electronically to pharmacies will be higher than for those who still write out prescriptions on paper and give them to the patient. The increased payments will help offset the cost of upgraded computer systems for doctors, as this has been a big roadblock, especially for small medical practices with tight budgets.
Electronic transfer of prescription data will solve a lot of headaches for patients, pharmacists, health insurance carriers, and doctors. The patient will no longer have to worry about losing the Rx slip, and will benefit from the increased safety that is expected to come with electronic transmittal of prescriptions. The pharmacists won’t have to try to decipher the doc’s handwriting or call the office for clarification of a script. Hopefully the information will be electronically transmitted to health insurance carriers too, making the claims process faster and easier. And doctors will know that clear, correct information has been transmitted to the pharmacist, complete with cross checks to make sure that multiple scripts don’t contraindicate each other or interact poorly.
We used to have our Colorado health insurance clients fill out paper health insurance applications. Then we would check the application to make sure nothing was missed, and send it to the health insurance carrier. From there, the underwriters would enter the information into a computer, calling us along the way if they were unable to read an applicant’s handwriting, or if a question had not been answered. Several years ago, health insurance carriers started switching one by one to online applications. The difference is dramatic. The applications don’t allow a user to move on until each section is complete. There is no handwriting to decipher. When the applicant clicks the submit button, the information on the application goes directly to the underwriters. It’s a far more efficient process, and I’m sure that electronic transmittal of prescriptions will also be far more efficient than the handwritten method.
For now, only about 10% of family doctors use electronic transmittal for prescriptions. Obviously cost is an issue, since it’s estimated that the computer system and software will cost an average of $3,000 per doctor. But we’re also creatures of habit, and doctors will have to get used to a new system, which isn’t easy for anyone. I’m sure that electronic storage and transmittal of all medical information is going to be standard procedure several years from now. It makes sense, and the technology is available. We could speed up the claims process with health insurance, eliminate errors when prescriptions and medical orders are transferred to pharmacies and other doctors, and safeguard patient information more securely without bits of paper floating around. But it will take time for people to get used to a more electronic system, and of course – somebody has to pay for it. I applaud Medicare for implementing higher reimbursement rates for docs who use the electronic transmittal system. Providing a tangible benefit is far better than just encouraging the use of the electronic systems. I wonder what percentage of doctors will be using electronic prescription transmittal five years from now?