Waltham, Mass. — The president of the Massachusetts Medical Society, on the day when new legislation takes effect, today welcomed the official arrival of electronic prescriptions in the Commonwealth and said “we’re taking a huge step forward in patient safety efforts to reduce medication errors.”
A new law becomes effective today (Feb. 24), allowing the use of electronic prescriptions by physicians for their patients.
“The laws and regulations governing prescriptions are now consistent with existing technology,” said Thomas E. Sullivan, M.D., president of the statewide medical society with 18,000 physician members. “This significant change gives the Department of Public Health authority to bring our prescribing regulations into the 21st century. Most of all, this change will bring many benefits to the interactions of physician, patient, and pharmacist, the most important of which is patient safety.”
Sullivan said the new legislation streamlines the prescription process for physicians and pharmacists and adds convenience and safety for the patient. He applauded the efforts of Senator Richard Moore (D-Uxbridge), Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Health Care, and Representative Brian Dempsey (D-Haverhill), Chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, for their hard work and support of this landmark legislation.
In Massachusetts, prescription writing had been governed by a combination of state and federal laws and regulations, developed to protect the public from the inappropriate and fraudulent distribution of powerful medicines and drugs. The last major revision and update of these laws occurred in the 1970s.
The new legislation, signed by Governor Romney on November 26, 2003, automatically becomes law 90 days after signature. It permits the electronic transmission of a prescription with an electronic signature and accompanying electronic instructions of the prescribing physician. The prescription can now be sent from the physician directly to the pharmacy of the patient’s choice without altering the prescription information. The Federal government will still control the standards for electronic signatures for narcotic prescriptions and other federally-controlled substances.
Sullivan said the Massachusetts Medical Society is the first state medical society to endorse an electronic prescription program for its members with the signing of an agreement with DrFirst, a Rockville, Maryland-based provider of electronic healthcare solutions for physicians and hospitals. The agreement, announced in October, offers Medical Society members DrFirst’s Rcopia,, the company’s state-of-the-art electronic prescribing service, which is a SureScripts Certified SolutionÔ. Rcopia can operate on multiple electronic platforms such as desktops, laptops, and PDAs. The service is suitable for large and small practices, groups, clinics, and independent physician associations.
A key piece to the electronic prescription process will be provided by SureScripts, an Alexandra, Virginia- based company established by the National Community Pharmacists Association and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores to improve the quality, safety, and efficiency of the overall prescribing process. At the core of the company’s focus is SureScripts Messenger™ Services, a healthcare infrastructure that establishes electronic communications between pharmacists and physicians and enables the electronic exchange of prescription information, including new prescriptions and refill requests and authorizations.
“We are honored to be working along with the Massachusetts Medical Society in its effort to educate physicians in this area,” said Kevin Hutchinson, president and CEO of SureScripts. “Based on SureScripts’ exhaustive research in 2003, physicians want to learn about electronic prescribing from their peers, local pharmacists and medical societies. The Society’s active involvement to help increase awareness and acceptance of the two-way exchange of prescription information between physicians and pharmacists will yield significant benefits for everyone involved in the process, with the patient as the ultimate beneficiary. ”
SureScripts Messenger Services is the largest national network to link physician office applications and established pharmacy software, enabling transmission of prescription information in a two-way electronic format. The company estimates that by the end of March nearly 70 percent of the retail pharmacies in the Commonwealth, both large chains and independent pharmacies, will be actively using electronic prescriptions through SureScripts.
The Massachusetts Medical Society, in conjunction with SureScripts, will work with its members to help identify physicians who wish to be in the forefront of electronic prescribing, serving as models for others by sharing their experiences. The Society will also continue to educate its members, through seminars and organizational media, on electronic prescribing and its benefits of patient safety and administrative efficiency.
John Bartos, President of DrFirst, said “We are excited to be able to take full advantage of Rcopia and the electronic connection to pharmacies in Massachusetts. This will lead to significant improvements in patient safety, medical office and pharmacy efficiency, and patient convenience.”
According to the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, the use of an electronic prescribing system could help cut medication errors significantly. Illegible prescriptions and confusion caused by similar sounding drug names are not uncommon. It is estimated that medication errors alone contribute to more than 7,000 deaths annually.
About the Massachusetts Medical Society
The Massachusetts Medical Society (MMS), with 18,000 physicians and student members, is dedicated to educating and advocating for the physicians and patients of Massachusetts. Founded in 1781, the MMS is the oldest continuously operating medical society in the country. The Society owns and publishes The New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal Watch family of professional newsletters, AIDS Clinical Care, and produces HealthNews, a consumer health publication. For more information, visit www.massmed.org.
DrFirst also provides the industries best secure text messaging platforms for physicians, hospitals and EMR/EHR vendors.