The worldwide growth of the e-prescribing market has increased rapidly over the past decade, but a number of hurdles exist that may affect its growth into the future.
E-prescriptions are an important technological innovation and have benefits for all stakeholders involved in the medical prescription process, with advanced IT services providing dramatic improvements in patient care and provider relationships. However, there are some concerns that have been identified by providers and analysts which might dampen the current adoption rate, namely issues around IT failures and access to broadband, as well as privacy concerns and the security of patient data.
Most doctors will prescribe medication to their patients by typing or hand-writing a slip which is given to the patient. The prescription slip is taken to a pharmacist with the necessary authorization by their insurance company or pharmacy benefit manager (PBM), and the pharmacist fills the prescription based on what is written on the slip and what has been authorized. E-prescribing software allows the digitization of this process, and a number of technical services and systems are used alongside the software to implement this digitization.
The use of electronic prescriptions provides a heightened accuracy that cannot be met by typed or hand-written prescriptions. To gain a sense of the scale of the errors in non-electronic prescriptions, one medico-legal team in the UK found that 1 in 20 prescriptions have at least one error. Reducing the incidence of these mistakes can reduce costs to doctors and pharmacists who will need to spend less time managing and interpreting prescription slips and can reduce unintended health consequences for unwitting patients. E-prescribing software is most certainly the solution: a Cornell medical school study found that when doctors used e-prescribing systems, they made seven times fewer errors than when using hand-written prescription methods.
With this significant number of benefits, it’s no wonder that the e-prescribing market is taking off around the world. The European market is one of the largest, with Scandinavian countries leading the way. Denmark and Sweden have good uptake of e-prescribing systems, though France and Italy are lagging. The UK appears to be picking up and adopting some of the measures that Scandinavian countries have put in place, and aims to build upon their more mature healthcare foundations with a move towards increased electronic systems uptake such as e-prescribing.
The North American market is also picking up speed, with a market of 52.3 million USD in 2013. Several US government initiatives have been driving this growth, one of which is the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act 2009 (HITECH Act). Under the HITECH Act the US Department of Health and Human Services is spending $25.9 billion to promote the adoption of health technology. An earlier initiative was the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003, which required a large part of the Medicare program to adopt e-prescribing systems. Asia, too, is taking on these new technologies, with a market predicted to reach 75.3 million USD by 2017.
Despite this growth, several impediments exist that could slow down the growth of the market long term. Primarily, IT issues and privacy concerns are two major hurdles that providers and patients have raised, and will need to be dealt with before the market can continue to grow. A major IT failure for one system supplier, Cegedim, left pharmacists unable to access their electronic prescription service for four days over the busy Easter period, which cast doubt on the reliability of the system as a whole. These types of system failures are not acceptable for systems that deal with patient health and what could be critical medications for patients. Improved system supplier responses to IT problems or system failures will need to be implemented before consumer confidence in these products can rapidly grow.
For some markets, access to reliable broadband and IT professionals to set up the systems is a significant barrier, and until reliable broadband systems have expanded worldwide, e-prescribing will continue to remain unavailable for particular communities. Some concerns have also been raised that design flaws or commercial sponsorship of e-prescribing software may lead practitioners to be reluctant to adopt the systems in their offices. More traditional medical practitioners may also be reluctant to move towards computerization of their practice in general. To address these concerns, methods will need to be put in place to smooth the transition towards new technologies, and user experience will need to be considered as an important feature in the development of all e-prescribing software.
On the whole, e-prescribing software has a number of strong benefits that can improve patient care, allow practitioners access to better information more quickly, and speed up transactions between practitioners, pharmacies, and PBMs. While some hurdles do exist, over time they will be able to be overcome, particularly as the global market moves towards an increased adoption of electronic technologies in all facets of life.