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E-prescriptions in Pa. touted as 'game-changer'

Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Dr. Jonathan Finder, a pediatric pulmonologist in Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, meets with April Miller of Scottdale and her daughter, Addison, 5, in his Monroeville office. Finder uses a desktop computer to prescribe three medications for his patients.

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The patient sat on the exam table, explaining his symptoms.

Fever. Aches. Nausea. Constant coughing.

The doctor nodded, confirmed that the patient indeed had the flu, and pulled out an electronic tablet. A few finger stokes later, he declared: “Your prescriptions are waiting for you at the pharmacy.”

Such scenes are becoming more common in Pennsylvania as doctors and pharmacies embrace e-prescriptions. Rather than use pen and paper, doctors can electronically send prescriptions directly to a pharmacy — cutting out the patient as middle man, reducing mistakes and eliminating wait time for sick patients.

E-prescribing is part of a larger movement toward digitalizing patients' medical records and placing them in a “cloud” that patients' doctors and other qualified medical personnel could access, officials said. The aim is to increase efficiency and give doctors a clearer picture of patients' needs and habits.

“It's the biggest game-changer in my whole career, in terms of my ability to care for my patients,” said Dr. Jonathan Finder, a pediatric pulmonologist at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. “It's an amazing tool.”

For example, he said, say he has an asthma patient who, for one year, must use an inhaler that lasts one month. With the patient's prescription history digitalized, Finder can press a button on his tablet and track whether the patient filled his monthly orders at the pharmacy.

“It's not that people lie to me, but memory is imperfect,” Finder said. “If you ask me what I had for lunch yesterday, I have to think about it. If you ask what I had a month ago, I have no idea. This gives me the ability to look into what the patient's actually doing. Many times this information has dramatically altered the management of my patient.”

Pennsylvania ranks 11th among states in use of e-prescribing, according to officials with SureScripts, a national e-prescribing network. Rankings are based on the percentage of pharmacies that e-prescribe.

In a survey of 122 pharmacies, nearly 61 percent, or 74, said they e-prescribe or will soon start. About 22 percent, or 27, said they were interested in switching over, and 21, or 17 percent, expressed no interest, officials said.

Deborah Saline, director of communications and outreach for the state Office of Administration's eHealth Collaborative, said putting patients' information in a digital cloud allows doctors to better respond to emergencies.

“I'm here in Harrisburg, but say I go to Western Pennsylvania and there's an accident,” she said. “It'd be nice if doctors there could pull up my records and be able to see am I allergic to certain antibiotics.”

Still, kinks in the system remain.

Pat Epple, CEO of the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association, said many doctors “aren't totally comfortable or trained in e-software” and some make dosage or frequency errors, which pharmacies usually catch.

“It's not yet the panacea everybody expects it to be, but it will be,” Epple said.

Chris Togneri is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5632.

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