Free electronic prescription software helps more docs avoid errors

Doctors in the U.S. will have access to free, Web-based electronic medicine prescribing software within a month, a group of health care providers and technology vendors announced Tuesday.

The goals of the National ePrescribing Patient Safety Initiative (NEPSI) are to get every U.S. doctor and pharmacy to use e-prescribing software and to eliminate thousands of injuries and deaths in the U.S. each year caused by prescription errors, supporters said at a press conference in Washington, D.C.

The e-prescribing initiative will eliminate common errors associated with handwritten prescriptions, including wrong drugs sold because a pharmacist can’t read a doctor’s writing, and a lack of drug interaction checks, said Dr. Nancy Dickey, president of the Health Science Center and vice chancellor for health affairs at Texas A&M University System.

“Paper kills,” added Newt Gingrich, a former U.S. representative and founder of the Center for Health Transformation. “It is a clear fact that a paper prescription is dangerous.”

Gingrich and other speakers pointed to a July 2006 study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences that said 1.5 million U.S. residents are injured each year and more than 7,000 killed because of prescription errors. Only about 20 percent of U.S. doctors use e-prescribing systems, but the NEPSI program “literally takes away any excuse” that doctors have, Gingrich said.

Many doctors have complained of the cost of implementing an e-prescribing system, but e-prescribing vendor Allscripts LLC is making its eRX Now software available as a Web-based service, accessible with any PC, mobile phone or personal digital assistant connected to the Internet. About 20,000 U.S. doctors currently use eRX Now, according to Allscripts.

Some doctors have also raised concerns about the amount of training needed for office workers, but most people with any computer experience should be able to understand eRX Now in less than 30 minutes, Dickey said.

“The staff here has trained me in the process literally standing on the sidewalk,” she said.

The free package could take away from other vendors offering e-prescribing software, but Allscripts Chief Executive Officer Glen Tullman said he hopes NEPSI can build on e-prescribing programs already started. The Allscripts software is designed to be interoperable with other vendors’ e-health records software, and it will be able to import patient records from many major patient data management packages, he said.

Allscripts and other technology partners will not make money from NEPSI, but the vendors see business opportunities down the road, when full-featured e-health records are in place, Tullman said. Allscripts sells e-health record software, and putting an e-prescribing system in place is the first step toward full e-health records, he said.

Other technology partners include Dell Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Sprint Nextel Corp., which is making available a limited number of e-prescribing-enabled mobile phones to doctors without Internet access, Tullman said. Representatives of Microsoft and Dell said the program will help their employees better manage their health-care options, and it will show U.S. residents the benefits of e-health records.

Another partner is SureScripts Inc., an e-prescribing vendor founded by two pharmacist organizations that has provided e-prescribing access to about 99 percent of U.S. pharmacies.

Thirteen health-care or insurance providers have signed up as regional supporters of NEPSI, with many providing training and promoting the program.

Doctors can sign up for the program starting Tuesday, and the software will be available within 30 days, Dickey said.

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