Whether you are 18- or 80-years old, the vast majority of people here in the state of New York prescribed a medication are accustomed to leaving the hospital, clinic or doctor's office with a written prescription in their hand.
As ingrained as this routine is for patients, it's scheduled to disappear entirely by March 27, as a new state law mandating that each and every prescription written by the state's 100,000-plus providers must be created electronically and forwarded to a designated pharmacy takes effect.
Why exactly is the state doing this?
Back in 2012, the state passed a law referred to as I-Stop, which was designed to help combat the skyrocketing rates of opioid abuse and fatal overdoses. The law was to be implemented in two stages, the first of which was implemented in 2013 and required physicians to check an online database before prescribing any controlled substances.
The second stage of I-Stop, implemented this year, calls for a switch to all electronic prescriptions, something that supporters say will not only help further combat the opioid epidemic, but also prescription errors attributable to the frequently illegible handwriting of physicians.
Is the state ready for this major switch?
While many have already made the transition, reports indicate that as recently as January, nearly 40 percent of the state's providers were still unable to prescribe electronically. Furthermore, several of the state's major health networks have already applied for waivers asking for more time to implement their systems.
What does the law say concerning exemptions and/or penalties for noncompliance?
Regarding exemptions, the law permits paper prescriptions to be written for medical supplies (wheelchairs, crutches, etc.), and in the event of technical difficulties or extenuating circumstances (prescription will be filled out of state).
As for penalties, the State Health Department indicates both civil and criminal penalties can be pursued against noncompliant physicians.
While it's encouraging to see how this new reliance on electronic prescriptions could seriously reduce the number of serious errors attributable to handwriting, questions still remain about whether patients will be truly immune to mistakes.
What if there is some sort of computer error that causes unnecessary delays or partial transmissions to a pharmacy? What if an incorrect dropdown menu is selected or keystroke is made such that a patient is given the wrong dosage or wrong medication?
Stay tuned for updates …