NY's digital prescriptions use tech to battle addiction

Paper prescriptions: they're hard to read, easy to lose, and, for those particularly desperate, not terribly difficult to modify. Starting March 27, New York will be the first state to require all doctors to submit prescriptions digitally rather than writing them out on a sheet of paper. Doing so presents some minor downsides for patients — namely, they're stuck with whatever pharmacy receives it rather than being able to take it wherever is cheapest at that moment — but there are several upsides as well.

Later this month, all prescriptions in New York will be entered into a digital system and sent directly to a pharmacy — any doctor that writes a paper prescription will be hit with a fine, another first in the nation. The pharmacy will then fill the prescription on their end, and the patient will be able to pick it up when it's ready, no fuss.

The system will keep track of what prescriptions a patient has been given, enabling doctors to review that history before prescribing something themselves. The move aims to reduce opioid abuse and addiction by better enabling doctors to identify individuals getting multiple prescriptions from different doctors. The State Health Department cites the year spanning 2013-14 as having had 27 million controlled substance prescriptions written, a figure eclipsing the number of residents.

This is part of New York's 2012 law called I-Stop, which was passed to target opioid abuse. An online registry related to the law went live in 2013, requiring doctors to check whether someone had recently been prescribed a controlled substance. People came up with ways to trick the system, though, such as spelling a name wrong. This latest move — all digital prescriptions — targets the fraud part of the issue, making it more difficult for a doctor to plead ignorance or a patient to shop around for a second prescription.

The new system has proven burdensome for some institutions, though, with some hospitals and nursing homes seeking waivers to delay their use of the system. The I-Stop prescription platform was originally intended to rollout last year, but security issues resulted in substantial delays.

As well, patients will have to give the name of their intended pharmacy while at the doctor's office, doing so without necessarily knowing how long the wait time is and how much the medication will cost. If the patient wants to use a different pharmacy, he or she must wait for the doctor to call the original pharmacy, cancel the prescription, then manually re-enter it into the system for a different destination.

SOURCE: New York Times