Sops for doctors who e-prescribe
18 Dec 2008, 0000 hrs IST, APWASHINGTON: The push for paperless prescriptions is about to get a boost: Starting in January, doctors who e-prescribe can get bonus pay from

For patients, the benefits are obvious - from shorter drugstore waits to increased safety, as pharmacists no longer squint to decipher doctors' messy handwriting.

But persuading US doctors to ditch their prescription pads for e-prescribing so far has been an uphill battle. Only 10% of doctors are taking the plunge like Dr Ted Epperly in Boise, Idaho. Still, the movement is gaining steam as Medicare warns that its bonus payments are for a short time only: Holdouts still sticking to paper in 2012 will find their Medicare payments cut.

And continuing the push for medical information technology is a key part of President-elect Barack Obama's health-reform plans, in hopes that moving to computerized records - not just prescriptions, but all those troublesome paper charts that contribute to medical errors and wasted care - ultimately could save millions of dollars a year.

"We'd never go back," says Epperly, also president of the American Academy of Family Physicians. Patients "recognize that, 'Hey, Dr Epperly's in the information age, and my safety is better and the quality of care is better.'"

What's a paperless prescription? When the doctor writes it by computer and sends it directly to the drugstore by computer, no little piece of paper to get lost or stolen anywhere along that trail. The biggest reason for the paperless push is to improve safety. More than 1.5 million Americans are injured every year by medication mistakes. Electronic prescribing systems can flash an alert if the dose seems wrong or patient records show use of another drug that can dangerously interact.