Electronic prescriptions in store for Tampa Bay

USF will begin the first step of PaperFree Tampa Bay, a plan to convert Tampa into a totally electronic health care city, with the installation of electronic prescriptions in more than 10,000 medical offices.

USF Health will hire electronic health care ambassadors to install the software in physician offices over the course of the next 24 to 36 months, said Stephen Klasko, dean of the College of Medicine.

The software will allow physicians to use their PDAs, laptop or desktop computers to send an electronic copy of all prescriptions straight to a patient’s pharmacy.

“The beauty of electronics is that it’s standardized. It’s clear. It avoids errors in the name of the drug and the dosage and frequency of the drug,” said Jay Wilson, associate vice president of health law policy and safety.

The most advanced systems cross-check patient records so doctors cannot prescribe drugs that someone may be allergic to or drugs that conflict with another medication the patient is taking, Wilson said.

Electronic prescriptions came about because there was concern for a long time about the illegibility of physicians’ handwriting, he said.

“The patient safety movement has recognized that illegible prescriptions were at the root of many adverse events because pharmacists mistook what physicians prescribed either in terms of the name of the drug or the dosage or the frequency of the dosage,” Wilson said.

In addition to illegible handwriting, written prescriptions were unreliable because patients would sometimes lose them on the way to the pharmacy or neglect to ever fill them, Wilson said.

Using the electronic prescriptions would prevent doctors re-writing them because the file would still be in the database.

Klasko said the project will cost about $20 million to complete. Funding will largely be provided by the state’s portion of the stimulus package.

Other funding for PaperFree Tampa Bay will come from private companies, such as All Scripts — an electronic prescription company — and USF Health, Klasko said.

Congresswoman Kathy Castor (D-Florida) said in a statement that the location of USF in the Tampa Bay area is a practical place to introduce electronic prescribing for introducing electronic prescribing.

Klasko said universities and cities around the country have discussed implementing electronic prescriptions, but Tampa is the first to respond.

The electronic prescriptions in Tampa will reduce costs in the long run, ensure patient safety, create efficiency and reduce the amount of actual paper used in doctor offices, Wilson said.

“The challenge (with electronic prescriptions) is to add that new way of entering data. It’s a cultural issue in doctor’s offices,” Wilson said. “It’s getting physicians to do things differently from the way they had done them — and that’s hard to do.”

He said medical students at USF are learning how to use electronic prescriptions.

“When they graduate, they may not even know how to write a script,” Wilson said. “They’ll have been trained to do it electronically.”

USF Health employees said they hope electronic prescriptions will encourage health reform so new technology can be taken advantage of and that it will spark a transformation of data so that MRI’s, CAT scans, and x-rays results will eventually be available electronically to physicians.

“This is the first step in a plan,” Klasko said. “It’s like the primer coat of paint. It doesn’t matter what color you paint over the primer coat, you still need it.”