Doctors' sloppy handwriting kills more than 7,000 people annually. It's a shocking statistic, and, according to a July 2006 report from the National Academies of Science's Institute of Medicine (IOM), preventable medication mistakes also injure more than 1.5 million Americans annually. Many such errors result from unclear abbreviations and dosage indications and illegible writing on some of the 3.2 billion prescriptions written in the U.S. every year.
To address the problem—and give the push for electronic medical records a shove—a coalition of health care companies and technology firms will launch a program Tuesday to enable all doctors in the U.S. to write electronic prescriptions for free. The National e-prescribing Patient Safety Initiative (NEPSI) will offer doctors access to eRx Now, a Web-based tool that physicians can use to write prescriptions electronically, check for potentially harmful drug interactions and ensure that pharmacies provide appropriate medications and dosages. "Thousands of people are dying, and we've been talking about this problem for ages," says Glen Tullman, CEO of Allscripts, a Chicago-based health care technology company, that initiated the project. "This is crazy. We have the technology today to prevent these errors, so why aren't we doing it?"
One of the reasons is that doctors haven't invested in the needed technology, so it's being provided to them. The $100 million project has drawn support from a variety of partners, including Dell, Google, Aetna and numerous hospitals. "Our goal long-term is to get the prescription pads out of doctors' hands, to get them working on computers," says Scott Wells, a Dell vice-president of marketing. Google is designing a custom search engine with NEPSI to assist doctors looking for health data. Insurance companies such as Aetna have pledged to provide incentives for physicians using e-prescription systems.