E-prescribing makes it quick and easy for a doctor to prescribe a medication to a patient. However, doctors need to take extra precautions to ensure that they are not prescribing unnecessary medications too quickly.
Prescription drug abuse is a fast growing problem in America. According to a study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 7 million Americans abuse prescription drugs1. Furthermore, the CDC reported that in 2010, over 22,000 drug overdose deaths involved pharmaceutical drugs2. While the prescription medications can be obtained several unlawful ways (stealing someone else’s prescription or getting them through a drug dealer), a majority of them are obtained through prescriptions written directly for the drug abuser. Drug seekers will “doctor shop” to find a doctor (or multiple doctors) who is willing to write them a prescription for their chosen drug.
What Is Being Done?
49 states (all except Missouri) have put a Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) in place. These are electronic databases that prescribers can access to check a patient’s controlled substance prescription history within the state. These are valuable tools that can help reduce prescription drug abuse.
Surescripts®, the nation’s largest e-Prescribing hub, also offers access to some Nationwide Pharmacy Fill History and Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBM) claim history. For e-Prescribing software systems that certify on this feature and prescribers that take advantage of it, this is an invaluable tool.
Is It Enough?
These tools can only help if they are actually used. Checking these databases is voluntary in most states. The Tampa Bay Times did an investigation in Florida on the actual use of their drug monitoring program. They found that out of 48 million controlled substance prescriptions written, prescribers had only checked the database before writing 2 percent3. There are only two states that have taken lead in making the use of these databases mandatory. In August, New York put into effect the I-STOP law which requires prescribers to check their state database before prescribing controlled substances. Tennessee also has a similar law in effect.
In addition to actually using the databases, another key component to their effectiveness is that they provide current information. One more significant part of New York’s I-STOP law is that it requires real-time reporting by pharmacists dispensing prescriptions. The reporting requirements vary from state to state with only a couple requiring real-time reporting, some requiring reporting done within 24 hours and others only requiring monthly reporting.
The PDMPs also vary from state to state as to which agency houses the database, which controlled substances are reported, who is required to submit data, and how noncompliance is enforced. Some states are able to share data with other states while others are not.
And while e-Prescribing systems that offer access to the Surescripts® claims and fill history do allow for a nationwide accessible database, not all pharmacies and PMBs are in the network. More importantly, not all prescribers take the time to pull the history even when they have the tool.
While Surescripts® and many states have taken a step in the right direction, in order to be as effective as possible in reducing prescription drug abuse, a database needs to:
- Be National – Each state having their own database is not the most effective model. Drug abusers can easily cross state lines or even move to a new state to get more prescriptions. The drug database information needs to be available nationwide. An e-Prescribing Vendor wanting to give their prescribers access to all data would currently need to integrate with 49 PDMP systems and Surescripts®.
- Be Mandatory – Every prescriber should be required to check the drug database. The information is of no use if it isn’t seen.
- Require pharmacy real-time reporting – Having the most current data available will prevent drug abusers from being able to get prescriptions from multiple pharmacies.
- Include all prescriptions – Schedules of drugs can be changed and drugs that were once non-controlled substances become controlled substances. A complete history of all prescriptions would be most beneficial to prescribers. This information is not only helpful in fighting drug abuse, it can aid in the overall quality of patient care.
- Be Standardized and Interoperable – Prescribers are much more likely to make use of the data if it is part of their normal workflow. Having to login to a separate database in a new window is a hassle. However, if the data is available in a standardized format that can be integrated with a prescriber’s current e-Prescribing solution it becomes much more effective. While a Nationwide centralized database would allow for prescribers (and technology vendors) to be able to have one complete picture, interoperability between the PDMPs and Health Systems becomes important until that can happen. Moving in that direction, the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) just launched the PDMP & Health IT Initiative last week. It aims to create standard methods for exchanging the data between PDMPs and health systems. As described in the challenge statement, “There are a lack of common technical standards and vocabularies to enable PDMPs to share computable information with the EHR that providers can use to support clinical decision-making.”4
What Can Prescribers Do In The Mean Time?
Until there is one central database or interoperability between all e-Prescribing systems and PDMPs, prescribers should ensure they use their state systems and in addition, that they are using e-Rx programs that make national drug usage information available. Programs like MDToolbox have access to the Surescripts® Nationwide Medication History through participating PBMs and pharmacies. While this is still limited to the PBMs and pharmacies in the network and not mandated, it does give prescribers one more tool to stop abuse and prescription shoppers.
- "Topics in Brief: Prescription Drug Abuse" NIDA, December 2011.
- “Opioids drive continued increase in drug overdose deaths,” CDC, February 2013.
- Cox, John W. “Florida drug database intended to save lives is barely used by doctors.” Tampa Bay Times 6 Oct. 2012. http://www.tampabay.com/news/health/florida-drug-database-intended-to-save-lives-is-barely-used-by-doctors/1255062
- Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP) & Health IT Integration Initiative, Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT http://wiki.siframework.org/PDMP+%26+Health+IT+Integration+Charter+and+Members