Magazine article Drug Topics

ePrescriptions: Just What the Doctor Ordered?

Magazine article Drug Topics

ePrescriptions: Just What the Doctor Ordered?

Article excerpt

Physicians' notoriously poor penmanship, once the subject of jokes, has finally become the subject of concern-and, in some cases, the subject of lawsuits. And the problem is as pervasive as the scribbling is bad. Nearly all of the estimated three billion prescriptions filled annually in the United States are paper slips handwritten by physicians.

It's not surprising, then, to find several companies marketing new, wireless, electronic solutions to this issue, which in effect allow physicians to "write" and transmit prescriptions flawlessly and legibly at the point of care.

One such device, a 3Com PalmPilot loaded with prescription-writing software from a Mountain View, Calif., company called ePhysician, is just completing beta trials. Over 130 doctors have evaluated the product, including Linda Oberstein, M.D., an internist at a small San Mateo, Calif., primary care practice. She uses ePhysician about 10 times a day instead of prescription slips to write prescriptions for patients. "It's made writing prescriptions more efficient as far as not getting any calls back from pharmacists regarding handwriting," she said. "It's also more efficient because I send prescriptions straight to the pharmacy, which makes the patient happy because the Rx is ready for them when they get there."

To enter a prescription, Oberstein first logs on to ePhysician, which initiates a menu screen. With the device's stylus, she selects her patient's record, chooses the prescription function, then medication, dose, and frequency. She also chooses the pharmacy to which the prescription is to be transmitted.

After making the medication selections, Oberstein places the PalmPilot in a cradle connected to a PC. This not only transfers the patient data in the device to the PC but also sends the data directly to ePhysician's company server over the Internet, which then checks the prescription for medication errors. If no problems are found, the order is faxed to the appropriate pharmacy. Any irregularities result in a warning message returned to the PC. According to Oberstein, now that information is captured automatically, ePhysician has allowed her to eliminate her refill log book, saving the time it took to find and file the information.

Aside from the legibility feature, handheld devices can also save time for physicians, said Richard Sieve, M.D., who's been evaluating ePhysician since last summer in his private ob/gyn practice in San Jose, Calif.

"When we call in prescriptions, we often have to navigate through an automated switchboard, only to end up hanging on hold waiting for the pharmacist, ' he said. "Now we don't have to phone or even write the prescription. We just tap through using the PalmPilot, a 30second process, put it in the HotSync cradle, and go off and do something else while it sends the order in."

Sieve said it took him about 30 minutes to learn how to use ePhysician. "You quickly integrate this thing into your office routine, and it becomes part of what you do. Now I depend on it."

With the product due to launch during the second quarter of this year, the company plans to furnish the device free to physicians, then charge a fee for each transaction.

Another company entering this emerging market, iScribe, headquartered in San Mateo, Calif., offers a similar handheld device. This one, however, is subsidized by pharmacies, pharmaceutical companies, and pharmacy benefit managers, so there's no cost to the physician. …

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