As of March, about 7 percent of the 560,400 office-based physicians in the United States were actively writing electronic prescriptions, and about 73 percent of the 57,500 retail pharmacies were actively receiving them. By the end of 2008, the number of e-prescription transactions will reach 100 million, according to the Pharmacy Health Information Exchange, which claims to be the largest network to link pharmacies and physicians electronically. The network, operated by SureScripts, recently announced that it would merge with RxHub, another such network, into a single secure nationwide network for e-prescriptions and for the exchange of other health information.
But while e-prescribing is slowly making inroads, the prescription pad isn’t going the way of the dinosaur anytime soon. In 2007, 3.5 billion prescriptions were filled, according to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores; 1.8 billion were new prescriptions or renewals, and the rest were refills. But only 2 percent of the prescriptions that could be transmitted electronically were so routed, and electronic prescribing accounted for less than 5 percent of total prescriptions in all but three states.
The biggest factors influencing e-prescribing adoption are regionally-based programs sponsored by payers, health systems, large clinics, and state departments of health; executive orders from state and federal officials to eliminate paper prescriptions; and technology vendors who are trying to convert physicians who use the fax machine to those who send prescriptions via their personal digital assistant, while improving e-prescribing software to make it easier to use.