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    E-prescribing cuts drug costs, study says

    Doctors who use electronic prescribing systems that feature formulary decision support help patients save on drug costs, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

    Electronic prescribing with formulary decision support saves about $845,000 per 100,000 patients per year by helping doctors select generic and lower-cost drugs, according to the study, which was funded by a grant from the federal government.

    That’s a per-patient savings of only about 70 cents a month, but the study’s authors say more savings would follow from more widespread adoption of e-prescribing. “Complete” use of e-prescribing technologies would save $3.9 million per 100,000 patients, or $3.25 per patient per month, the authors say.

    About 20 percent of the prescriptions in the study were sent electronically.

    “The size of the financial effect depends critically on the extent to which e-prescribing is available and used,” the study states. The authors warn that the potential savings from e-prescribing must be weighed against its costs. First-year implementation costs for e-prescribing systems are estimated to be about $3,000 per provider, the study says.

    Further, doctors who have e-prescribing systems with formulary support in place must make the effort to use the systems if the cost savings the authors describe is to ever materialize, according to the study. “Merely providing e-prescribing systems to clinicians will not necessarily achieve those savings,” the authors write. “Rather, prescribers need to adopt the e-prescribing systems fully for these gains to be realized.”

    Electronic prescribing corresponded with a 3.3 percent increase in prescribing generic drugs, according to the study.

    The study’s researchers examined claims data with prescription information from two Massachusetts insurers before and after they launched e-prescribing programs in 2004. The data covered 1.5 million patients and 17.4 million filled prescriptions over an 18-month period.


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