Healthcare IT leaders kick off government's e-prescribing drive

By Bernie Monegain
12:00 AM

With the first phase of Medicare's mandate for e-prescribing rolling out in January, healthcare IT leaders, led by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, gathered Tuesday in Boston to jumpstart the initiative.

"One of the beauties of the system is that it will reduce the number of medical mistakes ... and tragic results," Leavitt said at the National E-prescribing Conference. "We know it saves lives, we know it saves money, and it's time to implement it."

Leavitt tied the nation's current economic crisis to the rising costs of healthcare and noted that going electronic with prescriptions helps provide cost-savings for patients, doctors and the entire healthcare system.

"It's an economic imperative in this country," he said.

In January, The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services will begin its five-year program providing incentive payments to eligible professionals who adopt e-prescribing. The payments will be equal to 2 percent of the physicians' Medicare-allowed charges.

The program includes penalties for those who do not make the switch from paper - 1 percent of their Medicare-allowed charges beginning in 2012 and 2 percent beginning in 2014.

The Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 established the five-year program of incentive payments to eligible professionals who are "successful electronic prescribers."

According to the Institute of Medicine, more than 1.5 million Americans are injured each year by drug errors, causing an estimated 7,000 deaths. Other studies show that pharmacists make more than 150 million phone calls a year to clarify illegible prescriptions with doctors.

Medicare is expected to save up to $156 million over five years by preventing some 530,000 adverse drug events, Leavitt said.

Leavitt delivered his comments at the second day of a two-day National E-Prescribing Conference organized by CMS in Boston. Among the healthcare IT leaders in attendance were Kerry Weems, acting administrator of the CMS; Sen. John Kerry, (D-Mass.); Newt Gingrich, founder of the Center for Health Transformation; and David Brailer, MD, founder and chairman of Health Evolution Partners and the  former national coordinator for healthcare information technology.

Does your practice have a successful approach to e-prescribing, or a particularly difficult challenge? Send your comments to Editor Bernie Monegain at

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