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One Doctor’s Rallying Cry: We Need to Adopt E-prescribing to Combat Opioid Abuse

March 27, 2017

Atul Gawande Quote

How does one of the industry’s leading surgeons and medical educators want to fight the opioid epidemic? With e-prescribing. Specifically, the electronic prescribing of controlled substances (EPCS). Dr. Atul Gawande, general and endocrine surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, and professor of surgery at Harvard Medical School believes EPCS is crucial to reducing opioid abuse.

In the April issue of Annals of Surgery, Dr. Gawande details why “It's Time to Adopt Electronic Prescriptions for Opioids.” In the article, he notes that, “we surgeons turn out to be suppliers of the excess prescription opiates fueling addiction and death by overdose.”

Dr. Gawande explains that surgeons often do not have access to data that could help guide their prescribing and supply decisions. “We have to change that,” he says, “and we now know how we can.” The “how” he’s referring to is EPCS.

As Dr. Gawande points out, there are many advantages to EPCS versus manual prescribing. EPCS puts an end to paper-based duplicate scripts and forgeries. Stringent security measures, like two-factor authentication, also help lessen prescription fraud. In fact, when combining EPCS with electronic access to medication history data, physicians can help identify potential doctor shopping and associated prescription abuse.

Dr. Gawande also points out that EPCS can simplify the overall prescription process for patients and providers. “Electronic prescribing would make it far easier for surgeons to write smaller prescriptions that meet the needs of 80% of patients, or even 50%, knowing they could remotely order additional supplies if patients needed it,” he said.

While EPCS is widely used in U.S. pharmacies, providers are slower to adopt the technology. Only eight percent of nationwide providers were EPCS-enabled at the end of 2015, the same year that the technology became legal.

As we’ve seen in New York over the past year, widespread provider adoption of EPCS is possible. Today marks the one-year anniversary of New York’s I-STOP e-prescribing mandate taking effect. New York’s increasing enablement levels—and the fact that nearly 72% of New York providers are now EPCS-enabled, compared to the national average of just 13%—makes it a great model for other states looking to combat the epidemic. And other states are taking notice, with many weighing mandates of their own.

In his article, Dr. Gawande also references other prescribing practices that providers must embrace to “stem the tide of drug overdose deaths” including counseling patients on pain control and providing clear disposal instructions.

Dr. Gawande cautions that, “we, as surgeons, must not wait for state and federal governments to require us to adopt practices and tools that could stem the massive oversupply of prescription opioids while still meeting patients’ pain needs.” He encourages providers to support and advocate for e-prescribing while making EPCS a reality in their systems and practices.

We thank Dr. Gawande for calling attention to the powerful ways e-prescribing can help fight opioid abuse. Surescripts is proud to help make EPCS a reality for providers, pharmacists and patients, nationwide. Check out our GetEPCS educational resource to learn about the steps prescribers must take to become EPCS users. And be sure to follow @Surescripts for the latest information on EPCS adoption.

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