Doctor's idea sees times catch up

Prescriptions: Program that manages patients' files playing an increasing role in physicians' offices.

March 27, 2003|By Jeremy Boyer | Jeremy Boyer,NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

ALBANY, N.Y. - Twelve years ago, Dr. Everett Forman had developed a computer program that he thought his colleagues in the medical industry would line up to purchase.

The program allowed doctors to write prescriptions and manage patient records electronically, saving valuable time and preventing potentially costly and dangerous errors.

But Forman did not see his business take off. "It flopped," he said recently, a few hours before patients would start trickling in to his suburban Albany practice. "Back then, nobody had computers in the office."

These days, though, computerized doctors' offices are standard, and Forman is ready to take advantage of the situation.

Last month, Forman's family-run company, Ballston Lake-based daw Systems, began marketing a revamped version of his program.

The company has sold five of the $4,500 ScriptSure systems, and roughly 150 prospective customers around the country have expressed an interest in the product after seeing an advertisement in an industry catalog, he said.

"It wasn't going to happen until physicians became more receptive to the use of computers in their offices, which has now happened," Forman said. "We think this thing can be big."

But there is plenty of competition. Prescription errors have become a hot issue for government regulators and the health care industry, particularly after a 1999 study by the Institute of Medicine at the National Academy of Science found that prescription errors kill about 7,000 people each year.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced its intention to require hospitals to use an electronic prescription program in conjunction with a bar code system to make sure patients get the right medicine at the right dose.

Eventually, electronic prescription writing will become common at physicians' offices, said Michael R. Cohen, president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices, a nonprofit organization based in Huntingdon Valley, Pa.

"Anything that makes a physician's job easier rather than more difficult is going to take off," he said. "They want to certainly reduce any risk of a patient getting hurt."

Cohen, a pharmacist, said fewer than 5 percent of physicians now use electronic prescription-writing programs, so the potential customer base is huge. As a result, there are several companies looking to tap that market.

Forman acknowledges there is a lot of competition.

With a few keystrokes, the ScriptSure system allows physicians to write and print a prescription from a database of more than 1,300 drugs. The system checks for potential problems, such as allergies to the prescribed drug or interactions with another drug the patient takes. It also allows the doctor to keep a record of the patient visit for his medical charts.

All of these things can be done in a few seconds, instead of a few minutes. Over the course of a day, Forman said, those saved minutes can add up to valuable time with patients.

The other major advantage to electronically generated prescriptions is increased safety, Forman said. The system eliminates prescription errors created as a result of illegible handwriting by the doctor.

Reducing errors is important not only for the obvious patient-safety reasons; it also reduces the chances of medical malpractice litigation - something doctors frequently cite as a major cause of rising health care costs.

"That's a big issue," said Forman's son, Adam, an attorney who works for daw Systems. "It helps protect the doctor in a lot of ways."

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