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David Baxter

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Alaska finally begins offering e-prescriptions
Aug 17, 2007

Last state to join national tech network; could help fight painkiller abuse

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Associated Press -- Electronic drug prescriptions can be delivered to pharmacists in all 50 states for the first time this week as Alaska became the final state to join the technological bandwagon.

In the past year, Georgia, South Carolina and West Virginia have all joined the national network, and the change in Alaska regulations means doctors? hieroglyphic handwriting and prescription pads could soon be a thing of the past.

Dick Holm, a member of the state Board of Pharmacy, said the process took so long to get to Alaska because ?we?re a small state and we address things as they come up.? He said the change was not mandated by the federal government.

After receiving several requests from doctors and businesses, he said the board investigated joining the network. Board members decided to do so, he said, because they didn?t see drawbacks and thought doctors who wished to could continue to write by hand.

Using electronic prescriptions has several notable perks, Holm said.

It can reduce the risk of pharmacists incorrectly filling prescriptions because they can?t understand doctors? handwriting. It promises to reduce paperwork and help thwart forgeries ? the electronic delivery ensures it is delivered directly to the pharmacy from the doctor.

?Anytime you make a rule, somebody finds a way around it,? Holm said. ?But with the electronic prescription, the prescription is not in the individual?s hands. If they don?t have it, they can?t copy it.?

According to Drug Enforcement Agency regulations, prescriptions for some controlled substances, such as OxyContin, cannot be transmitted electronically; a printed prescription is still required.

But maintaining a database based on the electronic prescriptions could still help to ?ferret out? people who are trying to get legal drugs illegally, said Jim Jordan, executive director of the Alaska State Medical Association.

?Electronic information is at the forefront to providing better health care,? he said.

Impact on smaller pharmacies
Some critics have said the program opens the door to new problems, such as hackers and data corruption. But Holm said the board was convinced the process is secure and individual doctors and pharmacies would be tasked with keeping it that way.

Nancy Davis, executive director of the Alaska Pharmacists Association, said she supports the change, but its cost, including the software, could hurt some practitioners.

?It?s going to have a definite impact on the smaller pharmacies,? Davis said. ?The small, independent pharmacies are going to be the ones that lag behind, if anyone does.?
 

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