Final State Legalizes E-Prescription
> 8/17/2007 12:10:09 PM

This Sunday, past Alaska's Board of Pharmacy, moving at a glacial pace, dismantled the last barrier to legalized e-prescriptions. Doctors everywhere in the nation are now allowed to send prescriptions electronically, though only 10-20 percent currently have the technology to do so.

The destruction of this last legal barrier marks the fist successful step in President Bush's ambitious health IT plan to have the majority of American medical records handled electronically within one decade. Only technical obstacles remain, and companies like SureScripts are working to streamline the process. SureScripts, formed by the two largest pharmacist organizations, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) and the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA), offers a network that can send prescriptions between different states and softwares.

E-prescriptions offer some unique risks and benefits. One danger is that hackers may gain access to massive databases of sensitive information. Another is that smaller pharmacies will not be able to afford the new technology.

The positive possibilities seem to outweigh the risks however. Patients will have control over their records and the ability to transfer them wherever they seek treatment. This will open the door for tele-medicine—isolated patients in snow-seiged Alaskan towns or rural America can be evaluated by a doctor and then given a prescription remotely, without ever having to travel to a doctor's office. Another benefit is that errors due to confusing handwriting will be avoided. You don't want to start taking Zyrof when your doctor really scrawled Zyrop.

Some of the consequences of e-prescription are not yet predictable. The Associated Press unearthed some of this confusion over the issue of narcotic control when it interviewed members of the Alaskan Board of Pharmacy and Jim Jordan, executive director of the Alaska State Medical Association. Jordan speculated that electronic records would allow the government to detect abnormalities that signal drug abuse. A member of the Board of Pharmacy further added that it was less safe to use paper prescriptions because it gave copyable material into the patient's hands. However, the Drug Enforcement Agency is not yet totally convinced. They still require handwritten prescriptions for many frequently-abused substances.

It seems that the plan for a nationwide electronic prescription system is on track. We will  have to wait for the technological problems to be worked out, and for old-fashioned doctors to get onboard, before any judgement can be made about the desirability of such a system.

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