Does your physician prescribe medications online?

Does your physician prescribe medications online?

Forget trying to read chicken scratch on a prescription slip. A growing number of doctors are prescribing medications electronically, and touting improved reliability and patient convenience.

"Often, by the time I'm done writing a prescription on the computer, the pharmacy has it," says Dr. Eric Poon, director of clinical informatics at Boston's highly rated Brigham and Women's Hospital, where virtually all doctors e-prescribe.

Last year, 18 percent of eligible prescriptions were routed electronically, up from 6.6 percent in 2008, according to industry leader SureScripts.

In addition to eliminating illegible handwriting, most prescription programs are connected to patients' electronic medical records and automatically check drugs against allergies and other medication, Poon says.

Despite the additional safeguards, errors can still occur. "It's not that hard to choose the wrong drug off a computer screen," says Michael Cohen, president of the Institute for Safe Medication Practices.

Cohen recommends patients ask their physician for a printout of prescriptions and get verbal instructions for taking them to double-check the drug and dosage.

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