The milestone means that pharmacists and doctors in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C., can legally exchange drug prescription information electronically.
E-prescribing is designed to reduce drug errors by eliminating illegible handwriting, automatically checking for medication interactions, red-flagging drug allergies, as well as streamline prescription renewals and refill processes.
The Institute of Medicine estimates that health IT, such as e-prescriptions, can prevent about 1.5 million medication errors in the U.S. annually.
In related developments, a coalition that includes health insurers, physician associations, and technology providers, announced Wednesday that it's launching a new center to further study how IT can improve the management and safety of prescription drugs. The new Center for Improving Medication Management will gather and disseminate best practices for the deployment of IT to electronically link doctors, pharmacists, and patients. The center also will conduct research on how IT can improve how drugs are prescribed, filled, used, and evaluated for patient outcomes.
It's estimated that only 50% of American patients typically adhere to instructions for taking their prescribed medications. Government researchers also estimate that less than 5% of the 600,000 physicians currently practicing in the U.S. have access to e-prescribing, due to a host of reasons, including technology costs, concerns about patient privacy, and other uncertainties.
The center will research and deploy pilot projects that address many of those e-prescribing issues, said Kevin Hutchinson, president and CEO of SureScripts, a provider of e-prescribing technology services and a founding member of the new center.
Among the center's possible projects are the studies of how electronic alerts can effectively prompt doctors to double-check whether a drug that's being prescribed for a patient is the correct medication or dose based on that person's medical diagnosis or recent lab test results, Hutchinson said in an interview.
"These pilot projects would not be demonstration projects, they'd be projects that could be expanded" in real health-care settings, potentially nationwide, he said.
SureScripts is providing the center with $1 million in seed funding. The center's other founding members -- which will make up its governing board -- include Intel, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the Medical Group Management Association, Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, and Humana.
Those members will contribute funding to the e-prescribing projects in which they're most interested, Hutchison said. The center also already has received calls from additional companies and organizations wanting to join the center or fund specific e-prescribing related projects, he said. SureScripts, which was founded in 2001 by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association, operates the Pharmacy Health Information Exchange, which facilitates secure electronic transmission of prescription information among doctors and pharmacies.
As for Alaska becoming the last state to legalize e-prescribing, Hutchinson said that will go a long way in helping clear the way for further adoption of e-prescribing by doctors and pharmacies across the country.
"There was a lot of confusion in the industry" about what states had laws and regulations that support e-prescribing, Hutchinson said. "This clears up all the confusion," he said, since e-prescriptions are legal everywhere.