The gauntlet has been thrown and the race is on. A challenge has been issued by the state of Alabama to the state of Georgia.
No, it’s not about college football, or any other sporting event for that matter. Alabama has challenged Georgia to a contest to see which state can be the first to arrive at 100 percent electronic prescribing.
Recently, a resolution was introduced into the Alabama legislature urging physicians, pharmacists, hospitals, insurers, employers and health plans to accelerate the e-prescribing process.
Led by the Center for Health Transformation, a group founded by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Georgia has set its sights on its own 100 percent e-prescribing goal. According to the Institute of Medicine, medication errors kill 7,000 Americans annually. They injure 1.5 million, and cost billions of dollars in emergency room visits and other complications. That translates to the equivalent of over 200 Georgians killed and more than 45,000 injuries in Georgia due to medication errors. Additionally, tens of millions of dollars are wasted each year on healthcare costs which are completely preventable.
The cost of not using advanced health information technology — including e-prescribing — is plainly unacceptable. E-prescribing is safe, highly efficient, and allows physicians and pharmacists to provide a higher level of care to Georgia citizens. Moreover, it is not a theory. Electronic prescribing is working all over the country and patients are requesting – and in some cases, demanding — that their physicians use this safer method to order prescription medications.
Just last year, the Georgia General Assembly passed and Gov. Sonny Perdue signed legislation which allows physicians to use and pharmacists to accept electronic prescriptions. The Georgia State Board of Pharmacy has adopted rules which set out how physicians and pharmacists can use e-prescribing to save lives and save money. It is in everyone’s interest, from both a health and cost perspective, that we move aggressively to electronic prescribing and away from illegible handwriting that invites totally avoidable medication errors.
To that degree, the Alabama Policy Institute and the Center for Health Transformation have jointly proposed a contest between Alabama and Georgia. In an editorial authored by Jim Frogue and Michael Ciamarra, which was widely published in newspapers throughout Alabama, a challenge was issued for a race between the two states. This will be a race which will result in fewer deaths, fewer injuries, fewer hospitalizations, lower healthcare costs and improved care.
Right now, Alabama has an edge. Alabama physicians and community pharmacies have had the ability to use e-prescribing programs for several years. However, Georgia is accepting the challenge from our sister state to the west. Currently, there is no state in America that is even close to the goal of 100 percent adoption of e-prescribing. Nationally, less than one in five practicing physicians use e-prescribing technology. Both Georgia and Alabama are well below that national average.
In Alabama, the state government is considering providing higher reimbursement rates for pharmacists, physicians and hospitals that use electronic prescriptions as opposed to costly, outdated paper prescriptions. Suddenly, the central players in Alabama will have a genuine financial interest to move rapidly to e-prescribing.
Similarly, Georgia should encourage the creation of incentives — both public and private — for Georgia physicians and pharmacies to embrace e-prescribing. The Institute of Medicine has called on all physicians across America to adopt e-prescribing by 2010 as a key solution to improving health outcomes and lowering cost. As patients, we should ask our physicians and our pharmacists why they are not using solutions which clearly save lives and improve healthcare. We should encourage our employers, health insurers and health plans to develop incentives to rapidly accelerate e-prescribing. We should also urge state leaders to consider offering tax breaks or other incentives to healthcare professionals and facilities that utilize e-prescribing.
The widespread adoption of e-prescribing in Georgia has been slowed by the cost and accessibility of electronic prescribing programs. However, the National e-Prescribing Patient Safety Initiative (NEPSI) was recently launched to overcome these barriers, making e-prescribing accessible to all physicians by providing an electronic prescribing program free of charge. Physicians can simply go online at www.nationalerx.com to enroll and begin to learn how to use e-prescribing in their daily practice. With over 95 percent of all Georgia community pharmacies — both chains and independents — ready to accept e-prescriptions, NEPSI offers an immediate e-prescribing solution for Georgia physicians.
The eRx initiative has been specifically designed to assist smaller, less well-funded physicians who are not currently using e-prescribing for their patients. It is not intended to displace commercial e-prescribing and health information technology programs already in use by Georgia physicians. The eRx system places a heavy emphasis on using computer power to cross-check potential interactions and contraindications for individuals who take more than one prescription or use multiple physicians.
As the Alabama editorial suggested, “While the suggestion for a contest between our two states is lighthearted, saving lives is not a game. The faster any of us can get to 100 percent e-prescribing, the better off we will be.”
The race is on.
Wayne Oliver is a project director for the Center for Health Transformation in Atlanta. Ron Stephens is a pharmacist and a state representative from Savannah.