Electronic prescriptions may save money for patients

By Tom Nordlie • Published: April 8th, 2009
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

It doesn’t make sense to pay more for a product than you have to.

But that’s what happens when doctors prescribe brand-name drugs instead of their generic equivalents.

Two large Massachusetts insurers wanted to make it easier for doctors to identify less-expensive options for their patients.

So they offered an electronic prescribing system to community-based practices.

The system included three color codes to identify generics, brand-names and drugs that weren’t covered by insurance. The doctors were free to prescribe any drug, regardless of cost.

The study was conducted by Harvard researchers, who published the results in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

About twelve-hundred doctors adopted the electronic prescribing system.

Analysis showed that in the six months before the system was implemented, they prescribed generics about half the time.

After the electronic system was in place, doctors prescribed generic drugs almost seven percent more often.

Although the electronic system was available continuously, doctors used it only about twenty percent of the time.

Overall, the system saved each patient about seventy cents per month.

That may not seem like much, but in one year it adds up to almost eight-hundred-fifty-thousand dollars per one-hundred-thousand patients.

And if the system were more fully used, it could save almost four-million dollars per one-hundred-thousand patients per year.

Of course, you don’t need a fancy electronic system to save money.

Next time you get a prescription, ask if there’s a generic equivalent available.

That’s a low-tech solution every doctor can put to use.