Blue Cross prescriptions going digital

I was looking at an old article about Insurer giving doctors hand-helds.. Its a great idea, why can’t it be introduced here in India? Okay, I know its a big step. But lets first have a look at this article written by Frank Norton.

Patients lose them, pharmacists can barely read them, and the costs they incur in the medical system are far too high.

They’re paper prescription slips, and their days could be numbered.

As many as 1,000 North Carolina doctors will start writing prescriptions electronically this spring with free pocket computers provided by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, the state’s largest health insurer announced Thursday.

Blue Cross officials estimate that each doctor equipped with a hand-held will save the organization about $3,000 a year by tapping into an information network that automatically weeds out pricey prescription options. That’s $3 million a year in potential savings.

Patients will benefit as well from lower drug costs, faster prescription processing and fewer mistakes, since pulldown prescription menus would replace chicken-scratch notes, and doctors would have more patient-history information at their fingertips, Blue Cross officials say.

Blue Cross expects to spend as much as $1.2 million to provide selected doctors with free personal digital assistants, software and wireless network hardware. The nonprofit insurer chose physicians based on those who write the highest number of prescriptions, an indication of drug costs.

“We believe so strongly that it will improve prescription accuracy and lower prescription drug costs for all North Carolinians, that we are investing in its adoption among the medical practices most likely to benefit from it,” said Bob Greczyn, Blue Cross president and CEO.

But some doctors may be skeptical of Blue Cross efforts to control the drugs they prescribe.

Blue Cross North Carolina hopes to have 500 participants within six months. A Blue Cross affiliate tested a similar program in Massachusetts, and about 75 percent of the 3,400 doctors selected opted in within two years.

The software lets doctors see lists of drugs a patient is taking, check for standard recommended dosages and check for allergies and possible drug interactions. Once the prescription is selected, the information transmits directly from the computer to the patient’s pharmacy.

The push is part of a larger effort by the health-care industry to embrace electronic order processing and record keeping, which could help control soaring costs. Some doctor practices already are embracing electronic prescriptions and other technology on their own.

The hook for doctors is that Blue Cross’ ePrescribe program works with most other health insurance plans in the state. That means doctors can electronically write prescriptions, check medical histories, automate renewals and increase cost savings on drugs for nearly all their patients, not just those who subscribe to Blue Cross.

The annual subscription fee for doctors is $500, paid to a technology vendor, not Blue Cross.

Seeing a trend in medical information technology, federal regulators at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are drafting codes for electronic prescription platforms to standardize the way data is communicated among insurers, doctors and pharmacists. Those standards are expected to be adopted in 2007 and become mandatory in 2008.

Other insurers are starting similar programs. In New Jersey, Aetna is testing an electronic prescription system for doctors. Duke University Health System plans a system for paramedics.

Blue Cross, which covers 3.3 million members, eventually wants all doctors in its state network to toss their prescription pads in favor of hand-helds. Blue Cross plans in Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania have similar initiatives.

North Carolina’s program is modeled after the one in Massachusetts. Program administrators there saw a 10 percent to 20 percent drop in prescription problems that arise from incorrect medications and dosages and unforeseen drug allergies and chemical interactions, said Ron Smith, pharmacy director for Blue Cross in North Carolina.

And most doctors recognize the benefits of technology.

“There is no doubt that the use of PDAs and electronics are the wave of the future,” said Mike Edwards, spokesman for the N.C. Medical Society, a physicians’ trade group. “They improve care from the patients’ and physicians’ perspectives. If done correctly, this technology can be a win-win for all.”

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