Sunday, May 10, 2009

e-Prescribing for Controlled Substances

A bipartisan group of Senators have asked Secretary of HHS, Kathleen Sebelius and Attorney General Eric Holder to quickly put federal regulations in place to allow electronic prescribing for controlled substances.

Senators Sheldon Whitehouse(D-RI), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Edward Kennedy (D-MA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), John Kerry (D-MA), John Thune (R-SD), and Richard Burr (R-NC) believe the time is right to make progress on this issue since broader healthcare reform is looming on the horizon.

Studies show that e-prescribing is used today in about 18 percent of the doctors’ practices and could possibly save $20 billion annually as patients would experience fewer adverse drug events. However, current federal rules require that doctors write paper prescription for controlled pharmaceuticals, such as pain medications, antidepressants, and some drugs used to treat asthma in children. As a result, most doctors resort to writing all of their prescriptions by hand rather than maintain a paper system for controlled substances and an electronic system for non-controlled substances.

After four years of inaction, a hearing was held December 2007. At the hearing, Senators Whitehouse and Coburn pressed a DEA official on the agency’s timeframe to revise the existing rules. This resulted in DEA issuing a new draft rule to lift the prohibition against e-prescribing for controlled substances.

However, the rule is not yet finalized. The Senators want to see a final rule that advances both healthcare quality and efficiency and reduces illegal prescription drug diversion, but passing the rule will require the cooperation, compromise, and knowledge of experts at both the Department of Justice and HHS.