Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey and pharmacy benefit manager Caremark Rx are offering $3 million to subsidize the costs for 700 physicians to use electronic prescribing, with an official from the payer saying they've learned some lessons from an earlier failed e-prescribing initiative.
The two companies will pay for the hardware costs, including a free personal digital assistant, a printer, other related hardware, iScribe e-prescribing software, installation and training for physicians who write the highest number of prescriptions in the payer's network.
The e-prescribing tools will be able to either send a prescription to a printer in the physician's office or send it electronically -- via fax in most cases, at least initially -- to a selected pharmacy, according to the companies. The tools also will be able to perform drug-interaction checks at the point of care and check on compliance with formularies, according to Jay Patel, a pharmacist and Horizon's manager of business development.
The aim of the subsidy program is to remove cost as a barrier to adoption of e-prescribing, which Patel says should improve the quality of care by reducing the number of drug reactions.
Patel said the company took its lumps in a prior e-prescribing initiative that ran in 2000 and 2001 that attracted only 90 doctors or so. This time around, there will be better training on the system, not only for the physicians, but also for office support staff. There also will be better field support once the system is up and running. In addition, the company is being a bit pickier in selecting physicians for the program, he said.
"We have about 114 doctors already set up that are installed, ready to go or have passed the requirements to receive the software," he said. "A handful are already using it."
Early last year WellPoint offered physicians the choice of a PDA-based prescription-writing system or a personal computer for use with an electronic billing system. Through this March, according to WellPoint spokeswoman Laura Stallman, 86% of the 19,000 physicians who joined the program chose the computer/billing system package while just 14% registered to do e-prescribing. Of them, about 200 are active users and have submitted 30,000 electronic prescriptions to date, Stallman said.
The Holy Grail for e-prescribing technology is for computers in physicians' offices and at corner pharmacies to create two-way channels of connection.
Although the iScribe system "is definitely cable of doing that," Patel said, "right now, a lot of the pharmacies are not wired to do it computer-to-computer.
"We're hoping that if we can create some kind of buzz around e-prescribing, it will lead the industry toward that direction," Patel said. "Our goal is to get to that level. This is just the first step to getting there."