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Electronic Prescribing Saves Patients Money
Date:12/8/2008

It steers doctors toward lower-cost drugs, study finds

MONDAY, Dec. 8 (HealthDay News) -- An electronic prescribing system that tells doctors which drugs are the least expensive can save millions a year, a new study finds.

"One of the challenges physicians face is that they don't know which drugs are preferred or not preferred," said Dr. Michael A. Fischer, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and lead author of a report in the Dec. 8/22 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. "The insurance companies involved in the study provided that information by a color code -- green for drugs that were preferred, red for drugs that were not preferred."

The study of 17.4 million prescriptions filled by more than 1.5 million patients of nearly 1,200 Massachusetts physicians found that use of the least expensive drugs -- classified as "tier 1" for the study, such as those available generically -- increased by 3.3 percent when e-prescribing was used. Use of more expensive "tier 2" preferred brand-name drugs decreased by 1.9 percent, and use of "tier 3" non-preferred brand-name drugs decreased by 1.5 percent.

The result was an estimated savings of 70 cents per patient a month -- not much per individual, but it added up to $845,000 a year for every 100,000 people filling prescriptions.

And those savings were possible when just 20 percent of the doctors who had access to e-prescribing used it. "The potential savings increase with more availability and use of e-prescribing; for complete e-prescribing use, the projected savings are $3.91 million per 100,000 patients per year," the report said.

The U.S. government is pushing hard to increase electronic prescribing. Medicare is offering a 2 percent bonus over its regular fees for physicians using such a system in 2009 and 2010. The bonus will be 1 percent for 2011 and 2012, and 0.5 percent for 2013.

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