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October 9, 2001

For More Information, Contact:
Jamille Moens at (916) 651-4011


SACRAMENTO – Assemblyman Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) announced today that his bill to study the electronic transmission of prescriptions by physicians, surgeons and other health care providers has been signed into law.

Assembly Bill 1589 requires the Medical Board of California to commission a study and evaluate the electronic transmission of prescriptions by health care providers and report its recommendations to the Legislature by January 1, 2003.

“I’m pleased this bill is now law, because ultimately this effort can save lives,” said Simitian.  “It will look at ways to prescribe drugs online – not just faster and more efficiently – but in ways that can substantially reduce the incidence of medication errors and accidental deaths.”

Illegible handwritten prescriptions are a major problem nation-wide.  It is estimated that 150 million inquiries are made each year by pharmacists for clarification of written prescriptions.  In addition, a 1999 Institute of Medicine report estimates that drug-related medical errors cost $77 billion annually and cause 7,000 deaths each year.

As a result of the study, Simitian hopes “there’s an increased use of the Internet by doctors and other health care professionals when prescribing drugs to avoid unnecessary illnesses and deaths each year.”

The Assembly Health committee has been researching various E-health issues including E-prescriptions.  The Palo Alto Medical Foundation has begun testing a new Web-based system that allows patients to view their own medical records, request appointments and renew prescriptions online.  And earlier this year, three companies that operate most of the nation’s managed care drug plans agreed to establish a joint system to make it easier for doctors to send prescriptions to pharmacies electronically.

As the industry explores options to make health care delivery more efficient and cost-effective, there is a need to develop standard protocols regarding signature verification, security, and coordination with existing laws for dispensing drugs.  “The goal is to improve patient safety,” said Simitian. “The State can play a leadership role in achieving that goal by developing a sound protocol for prescribing drugs electronically and encouraging doctors to use it.”

Experience of hospitals already online has shown that electronic prescribing can contribute significantly to the prevention of medication errors.  Two Harvard hospitals, using a computerized physician order entry system, have cut their prescription error rates in half.  “My hope is that we can manage this emerging use of technology in a way that saves lives,” concluded Simitian.