Cash-strapped country makes financial strides with health IT

Christina Papanikolaou, general secretary of public health, GreeceChristina Papanikolaou, general secretary of public health, Greece

Country's e-prescribing system has saved billions

Greece is no stranger to fiscal turmoil. It has one of the highest unemployment rates in the Western world and has racked up more than €321 billion of public debt, which translates to about 169 percent of the country's GDP. But some say the country's two-and-a-half-year-old e-prescribing system, one of the most advanced in Europe, is one thing on the right track, helping reduce pharmaceutical expenditures by 50 percent.  

At the EU-US eHealth conference in Boston last month, Christina Papanikolaou, general secretary of public health in Greece, shared her country's e-prescribing story, and how the system -- which now has a whopping 97 percent of doctors using it -- has helped curb pharmaceutical expenditures by up to €2.5 billion, or $3.4 billion, since 2009. 

Papanikolaou spoke to international world health leaders on how the financial crisis, both local and international, served as a catalyst for innovative idea development to shrink the country's climbing deficit. "I believe that effective use of innovative technologies in the health sector is a big challenge and at the same time an opportunity towards structural reforms for an efficient and sustainable healthcare system," she said.

[See also: E-prescribing in growth mode.]

Judging from the experiences in Greece, Papanikolaou said, "investing in healthcare is the most cost-effective solution for managing healthcare systems." 

Greece's e-prescribing system has automatically limited the percent of brand name drugs prescribed to 15 percent, contributing to a big piece of the savings. Resultantly, only about 1 percent of outpatient prescriptions are brand name drugs, according to the European Commission's July 2013 review. 

Before the e-prescription system was launched at the onset of 2011, the average cost of the total number of prescriptions per month was pegged at €25.0 million, or $33.8 million, with 300,000 prescriptions tallied per month. After the first trimester following the system's implementation, the average cost per month decreased to €13.0 million, or $17.6 million, with 200,000 prescriptions per month.