Doctors using hand-held electronic devices to prescribe medications for their patients were more likely to make lower-cost choices than physicians using paper prescription pads, a study of two Massachusetts health plans found.
Researchers led by Dr. Michael A. Fischer of Brigham and Women's Hospital compared the prescribing habits of physicians before and after an e-prescribing system was rolled out in 2003 by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts and Tufts Health Plan. The system color-coded medications in three tiers: green for tier 1 medications, which were all generic, cost the least, and carried the lowest co-payments; blue for tier 2 medications, which cost more and had higher co-pays; and red for tier 3 medications, which cost the most, were available in generic form, and had the highest co-pays.
Over the 18 months of the study, doctors using e-prescribing and its cues to cost savings were 3.3 percent more likely than other doctors to prescribe cheaper tier 1 medications. That translates into an annual savings of 70 cents per patient per month. During the study period, e-prescriptions accounted for 20 percent of prescriptions.
"Complete use of e-prescribing system ... could reduce prescription drug spending by up to $3.9 million per 100,000 patients per year," the authors write in the Archives of Internal Medicine. "Even in the context of pay-for-performance incentives, pharmacy regulations, and increasing overall use of generics, we still found a large potential savings from e-prescribing."
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