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E-Prescribing and Information to Improve Physician Prescribing Decisions

Physicians View E-Prescribing Features to Access External Information as Cumbersome and Unreliable

News Release
May 5, 2011

Alwyn Cassil (202) 264-3484 or

WASHINGTON, DC—While many e-prescribing systems have features to provide access to important external patient information—drugs prescribed by physicians in other practices and patient formularies, for example—physician practices face challenges using these tools effectively, according to a study released today by the Center for Studying Health System Change (HSC).
Funded by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the qualitative study examined the experiences of 24 physician practices using e-prescribing systems, focusing on the use of features that allow access to external patient-related information that could improve prescribing decisions.

Most of the 24 practices reported that physicians had access to formulary information, but only about half reported physician access to patient medication histories. Many physicians did not routinely review these sources of information in making prescribing decisions.

Study respondents highlighted two barriers to use: 1) tools to view and import data into patient records were cumbersome to use in some systems; and 2) data were not always seen as useful enough to spend the extra time to access and review them, particularly during time-pressed patient visits.

To support prescribing of less-expensive generic drugs, practices typically set their system defaults to permit pharmacist substitution of generics; many practices also used other tools to more proactively identify and select generic alternatives at the point of prescribing.

“Overall, physicians in practices with greater access to complete and accurate data and with easier-to-use systems were more likely to consistently take advantage of e-prescribing features that could improve decisions at the point of prescribing,” said HSC Senior Researcher Joy M. Grossman, Ph.D., coauthor of the study with Ellyn R. Boukus, M.A., an HSC research analyst; Dori A. Cross, an HSC research assistant; and Genna R. Cohen, a former HSC research analyst.

The study’s findings are detailed in a new HSC Research Brief—Physician Practices, E-Prescribing and Accessing Information to Improve Prescribing Decisions—available online at

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The Center for Studying Health System Change is a nonpartisan policy research organization committed to providing objective and timely research on the nation’s changing health system to help inform policy makers and contribute to better health care policy. HSC, based in Washington, D.C., is affiliated with Mathematica Policy Research.

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The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s mission is to improve the quality, safety, efficiency and effectiveness of health care for all Americans. As one of 12 agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, AHRQ supports research that helps people make more informed decisions and improves the quality of health care services.


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The Center for Studying Health System Change Ceased operation on Dec. 31, 2013.