Doctors who prescribe medicines electronically may be more likely to choose lower-cost drugs, saving money for patients and insurers, according to a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine. But only about 6 percent of US doctors are using "e-prescribing," even though they may improve efficiency and reduce dispensing errors at pharmacies.
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.
Estimated savings were 70 cents per patient a month, which amounted to $845,000 a year for every 100,000 people filling scrips, which was possible when just 20 percent of docs used e-prescribing. "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," according to the report.
"One of the challenges physicians face is that they don't know which drugs are preferred or not preferred," Michael Fischer, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and lead author of the report, tells HealthDay News. "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. Nothing in the system forces the doctor to make a choice of drugs, but just color-coding, without forcing them to do anything, led to a movement to lower-cost drugs."