Chasing Paper from Medicine

Glen Tullman didn’t invent information technology, but he is one of those people who figured out early how to aim it with effect. Case in point: the 3 billion often illegibly marked paper prescriptions that Americans get from their doctors each year.

Tullman, CEO of the electronic health records company Allscripts, would like to whittle that number to zero. Prescription errors, he points out, injure 1.5 million and kill 7,000 patients annually–and most mistakes could be avoided if scripts were written electronically. “Seven thousand deaths is the equivalent of one Boeing 737 crashing every week for a year,” he says. “If one of them crashes, there’s an investigation and a public outcry.” In January, Allscripts teamed with Dell and a host of technology, insurance and health-care firms to launch the National ePrescribing Patient Safety Initiative (NEPSI). The consortium will provide electronic prescribing free to doctors across the country. Tullman estimates the cost at about $100 million over five years.

The NEPSI project captures part of what motivates Tullman to work. “The opportunity to make a difference, to tackle a big problem, is what gets me excited,” he says. But he isn’t all high moral purpose. So there’s another biggie: pleasure. In creating, succeeding, repeating. “You spend way too many hours doing it to not have fun doing what you do,” he says. “And when you’re having fun, it’s not work.”

{The idea that e-prescribing will save lives and injuries caused by illegible handwritten prescriptions is a myth. Forcing physicians to e-prescribe will not reduce errors, because all handwritten prescriptions are already electronically entered into computers by pharmacists—and have been for more than a decade. If a pharmacist cannot read a handwritten prescription, he/she calls the doctor to obtain the correct information to enter into a database. What Tullman is really selling is a scary story designed to mislead and push the public into believing that e-prescriptions are safer than paper prescriptions—he says that he thinks e-prescribing will enable him to sell more software. Tullman doesn’t tell the public that every electronic prescription is being data mined and sold daily to insurers and employers for medical underwriting and to discriminate against people seeking jobs. If paper prescription errors could be eliminated simply by using e-prescriptions, why didn’t that happen 10 years ago, when pharmacists began entering all prescriptions into computers electronically? ~ Dr. Deborah Peel, Patient Privacy Rights}

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