One of the continuing bright spots in the national push for health information exchange has been the rapid progress by physicians and other authorized prescribers in sending electronic prescriptions to pharmacies and pharmacy benefits managers.
More than half of all prescribing physicians and other prescribers (56%) and nearly all pharmacies (95%) in the U.S. used electronic prescribing technology last year via the Surescripts network, according to the Arlington, Va.,-based company's 2014 annual report released Tuesday.
Surescripts is not the only U.S. e-prescribing network, but it is by far the largest. Surescripts was formed in 2008 with the merger of two rival networks, RxHub and SureScripts.
About 1.2 billion prescriptions, or about 67% of all new prescriptions, moved last year electronically via Surescripts.
That's a jump of 20% from the volume of e-prescriptions moved in 2013, which was up 32% from the year before. In contrast, the percentage of e-prescribers increased just slightly in 2014, up from 55% in 2013.
Last year, Surescripts reported that 70% of office-based prescribers were e-prescribing. This year, however, the company's report moved beyond prescribers in office-based practices to reflect a broader base of clinicians.
To put these numbers in context, in 2006 Surescripts claimed just 16,000 office-based prescribers were using e-Rx systems, less than 3% of the 611,000 physicians and other office-based clinicians that the company estimated had prescription-writing authority in the U.S. at that time.
Driving that whopping increase in clinician usage of the technology has been the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which created a federal incentive program for the purchase and meaningful use of electronic health-record systems. In drafting the ARRA, Congress specified e-prescribing as a condition of meaningful use.
E-prescribing of controlled substances still lags, most likely because it took longer in most states for physicians to gain authority to send electronic prescriptions for narcotics. Last year, 1.67 million prescriptions for controlled medications were sent electronically via Surescripts, a 400% increase over 2013, but that's still “a small fraction” of the number written. Nationwide, 73% of pharmacies are ready to receive e-prescription for controlled drugs, but only 1.4% of prescribers write and send them.