New York State Is Doing Away With Paper Prescriptions

By McCarton Ackerman 03/17/16

On March 27, New York is following in the path of Minnesota and doing away with paper prescriptions and going digital in an effort to combat the opiate epidemic. 

New York State Is Doing Away With Paper Prescriptions
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New York State is bringing prescriptions into the digital era in an attempt to combat opioid addiction, but the new change could potentially be damaging for low-income residents.

Beginning on March 27, pad-and-paper prescriptions will be eschewed for electronic ones. Doctors will create prescriptions with a few point-and-clicks on the computer and have them sent straight to a pharmacy of the patient’s choice. Although this practice already been done in Minnesota, New York is taking it even further by issuing fines and even potential imprisonment for physicians who don’t comply.

“Paper prescriptions had become a form of criminal currency that could be traded even more easily than the drugs themselves,” said state attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman to the New York Times. “By moving to a system of e-prescribing, we can curb the incidence of these criminal acts and also reduce errors resulting from misinterpretation of handwriting on good-faith prescriptions.”

The change is part of a state law called I-Stop, which was created in 2012 and designed to reduce prescription opioid abuse. The first step was creating an online registry that doctors are required to check, which lists of all the medications that a patient has recently been subscribed. The next part of the transition was implementing electronic prescriptions. The initial goal was to begin the transition last year but software security issues, that have now been resolved, caused the delay.

But despite the extra time, only 60% of the nearly 100,000 prescribers in the state have gotten set up to send prescriptions electronically, while only 30% are set up to prescribe controlled substances electronically. Some of the biggest health systems in New York are even asking for more time to get ready, including NYU Langone Medical Center and the Mount Sinai Health System. Dr. Joseph R. Maldonado, president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, appeared frustrated in telling the New York Times that “there should really be no reason that a doctor shouldn’t have had ample time to get it up and running.”

The new digital system also poses some potential drawbacks. Because prescriptions are sent directly to a pharmacy, patients no longer have the luxury of shopping around to find the best prices for their prescription drugs. If they decide to pick up their medicines at another pharmacy, the doctor is required to cancel the prescription by phone and then reissue it again. Many physicians are balking at the extra work this requires them to do and some are now reportedly refusing to write prescriptions for certain drugs.

“It will just mean more work at night. As an internist, I have patients that are sometimes on ten prescriptions. That’s extra time after hours,” said Rochester-based Dr. Phyllis Harris to local TV station WHEC. “Do I want to do it? Absolutely not.” 

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.