Washington, DC — Let’s just start with the big number: the percent of physicians e-prescribing through an EHR increased from 7% in 2008 to 70% in 2014 (representing ~60% of all new and renewal prescription volume).

That’s a 900% increase in the number of physicians sending prescriptions to brick-and-mortar and mail-order pharmacies around the country. A major shift in behavior in just five years.

There are three big motivators behind the shift and three potential challenges for brands and patients alike created by it. Let’s take a look at both sides:

Motivators behind the shift:

  1. Meaningful use: As part of the big Medicare and Medicaid Electronic Health Care Record (EHR) Incentive Program designed to help practices and hospitals adopt EHR, three phases of requirements for “meaningful use” of those systems were established. The first includes a requirement that more than 40% of prescriptions be “written” that way.
  2. Fewer errors: No surprise – type is much less open to interpretation than the average doctor’s handwritten scrawl. Those handwriting interpretation errors were estimated to cause 9% of all medication errors before the e-prescribing systems really took off.
  3. Less time: The average primary care doctors writes 30 time-consuming new prescriptions per day and nearly the same number of refills. Doing all that work by hand – and handling calls from pharmacies, replacing lost prescriptions, etc. – takes a lot of time. E-prescribing reduces that time burden on both doctor and staff.


New challenges for brands and patients:

  1. Playing favorites: EHR makes it easy for doctors to write their favorite prescriptions by creating a favorites list. Once the list is populated, a doctor can simply call up her preferred drug and dose from a drop down list and the required information will be filled in automatically. That repeated behavior makes getting a new drug into the consideration set very challenging.
  2. Leaving empty handed: We know there’s a huge drop-off (see second chart in this post) between the number of patients who receive a prescription and those who actually pick it up at the pharmacy. This challenge is made even worse when they don’t have a physical prescription to remind them. Many systems are making it possible for brands or insurers to prompt EHRs to automatically print patient materials. Both because educational information delivered with the prescription has been repeatedly proven to increase adherence to therapy and because the reminder matters.
  3. Translating advice: The quick and often automatic notes doctors add to ePrescriptions often do not give a patient all the information he may need. In one study, nearly half of pharmacies reported that patient instructions typically had to be rewritten for patients to understand them. That’s not all those pharmacists were editing. “Many had to edit certain prescription information, such as drug name, dosage and quantity. One common cause reported by both physicians and pharmacists was that physicians must select medications with more specificity when e-prescribing and make decisions about such factors as packaging and drug form. Such decisions had typically been made by pharmacists for handwritten prescriptions.”



Surescripts and the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, Office of Planning, Evaluation, and Analysis, 2014

Alan A. Zuckerman, MD, is in the Department of Pediatrics at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, and Michael Martin, MD, is in the Department of Pediatrics at Inova Fairfax Hospital for Children in Falls Church, Virginia.

AHRQ, “Transmitting and processing electronic prescriptions: Experiences of physician practices and pharmacies,” 2011

About the Author:

As Managing Director of Innovation and Insights for Syneos Health Communications, Leigh is responsible for building and scaling a global team of healthcare experts who together help life science leaders better understand the complex lives, influences and expectations of their customers. Specifically, they uncover actionable insights that fuel empathy and creativity; lead co-creation events that let marketers learn from peers, trends, and new possibilities; and help clients identify the most valuable and useful new customer experiences to create.

Leigh has worked with Fortune 1000 companies to craft their digital, mobile, social and CRM strategies for nearly 20 years.She’s worked for category-leading agencies in retail, public affairs, B2B technology, and higher education. Prior to moving to Syneos Health Communications, she held several leadership roles at our largest agency, GSW.  There, she founded an innovation practice fueled by the zeitgeist and spearheaded digital and innovation thinking across the business.

Leigh has taken a special interest in complex healthcare products that can change lives in meaningful ways. She was recently a strategic lead on the 3rd largest launch in pharmaceutical history: Tecfidera. Before that she had keys roles with Eli Lilly Oncology, Abbott Nutrition, Amgen Cardiovascular, and Eli Lilly Diabetes.

A critical part of Leigh’s work is trends and new ideas. Every year, she convenes a group of trend watchers from across our global network to identify the shifts most critical to healthcare marketers. This year, she led over 250 experts to experts to focus on the most important changes in the commercial, consumer, marketing, digital and healthcare landscapes. (See reports at trends.health)

Leigh is a sought-after writer and speaker. Recognized as one of the most inspiring people in the pharmaceutical industry by PharmaVoice and Top 10 Innovation Catalysts of 2017 by MM&M, Leigh also was recognized  as a Rising Star by the Healthcare Businesswomen's Association (HBA) for her overt passion, industry thought leadership and significant contributions in new business, strategy and mentoring.