Background: The introduction of electronic transfer of prescriptions (ETP) or ePrescriptions in ambulatory health care has been suggested to have a positive impact on the prescribing and dispensing processes. Thereby, implying that ePrescribing can improve safety, quality, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. In December 2007, 68% of all new prescriptions were transferred electronically in Sweden. The aim of the present study was to assess the quality of ePrescriptions by comparing the proportions of ePrescriptions and non-electronic prescriptions necessitating a clarification contact (correction, completion or change) with the prescriber at the time of dispensing.
Methods: A direct observational study was performed at three Swedish mail-order pharmacies which were known to dispense a large proportion of ePrescriptions (38-75%). Data were gathered on all ePrescriptions dispensed at these pharmacies over a three week period in February 2006. All clarification contacts with prescribers were included in the study and were classified and assessed in comparison with all drug prescriptions dispensed at the same pharmacies over the specified period.
Results: Of the 31225 prescriptions dispensed during the study period, clarification contacts were made for 2.0% (147/7532) of new ePrescriptions and 1.2% (79/6833) of new non-electronic prescriptions. This represented a relative risk (RR) of 1.7 (95% CI 1.3-2.2) for new ePrescriptions compared to new non-electronic prescriptions. The increased RR was mainly due to 'Dosage and directions for use', which had an RR of 7.6 (95% CI 2.8-20.4) when compared to other clarification contacts. In all, 89.5% of the suggested pharmacist interventions were accepted by the prescriber, 77.7% (192/247) as suggested and an additional 11.7% (29/247) after a modification during contact with the prescriber.
Conclusion: The increased proportion of prescriptions necessitating a clarification contact for new ePrescriptions compared to new non-electronic prescriptions indicates the need for an increased focus on quality aspects in ePrescribing deployment. ETP technology should be developed towards a two-way communication between the prescriber and the pharmacist with automated checks of missing, inaccurate, or ambiguous information. This would enhance safety and quality for the patient and also improve efficiency and cost-effectiveness within the health care system.