Electronic Rx Could Solve Physician Penmanship Problem

Doctors' poor penmanship is a long running joke, but there's nothing funny about a pharmacist trying to fill a prescription and being unable to accurately decipher a physician's sloppy scribbles.

The consequences of a mistake can be severe, if not fatal. But now, if a new initiative in Nevada catches on, doctors throughout the state may soon be trading in their prescription pads for mouse pads. The idea? Doctors would email prescriptions to pharmacists rather than having patients deliver hand-written instructions.

"Once our doctors saw the advantages of electronic prescribing, I think they could never go back to handwriten prescriptions," said Dr. Craig Morrow, an internist at Las Vegas' largest medical group, Southwest Medical Associates, and advocate of electronic prescriptions. "It saves lives. It is much more accurate. The system will alert you of allergic reactions, drug interactions and it's a huge improvement," he said.

"I don't know how pharmacists read our writing," said Dr. Anthony Marlon, CEO of Sierra Health Services, Nevada's largest health plan. "It's terrible."

Doctors who support the initiative say the computer is safer and faster because prescriptions would be filled by the time the patient arrived at the drugstore. The program would also save patients money because it automatically checks for generic drugs.

"We got a 10 percent bump in the utilization of generics," Dr. Marlon said. "That saves everybody money," he said.

The main objection to the program is privacy concerns, fears that medical information could be compromised, mishandled or used for more intrusive marketing by insurance and drug companies.

"There's always potential [for privacy breaches] with hackers or a misdirected prescription," said attorney Michael McCue. "There's always the potential for divulging a patient's prescription information to someone unintended."

Nevada's program would be the first statewide electronic prescription program, though other places are trying it as well. The idea is supported by the White House and has bi-partisan support in Congress. This summer, Sens. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., and Bill Frist, R-Tenn., joined forces to rally support for a measure that would computerize all medical records, not just prescriptions.

Click on the video box at the top of this story to see a report by FOX News' Trace Gallagher.