E-prescribing is one important component of EHRs. Retail pharmacies are realizing the potential for e-prescribing to increase their safety and productivity, such as Walgreens. The national pharmacy chain’s electronic prescriptions recently reached 4 million in October 2009, a 185-percent increase from the year prior.

It is projected that Walgreens will fill more than 45 million electronic prescriptions in 2009, compared with 15 million filled in 2008. The company expects growth to continue with help from financial incentives in the federal stimulus package, which encourages hospitals, doctors and others to adopt electronic health records, of which e-prescribing is a key component.

“With the federal stimulus package providing $19 billion in incentives to adopt electronic health records, doctors will gain easier access to software that makes electronic prescribing possible,” said Don Huonker, Walgreens’ senior vice president of healthcare innovation.

There is the potential for e-prescribing to increase even more. Currently, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency does not allow doctors to electronically prescribe controlled substances. Walgreens officials are advocating extending e-prescribing to controlled substances since controlled substances currently account for about 15- percent of all medications prescribed.

E-prescribing can increase safety and efficiency, but if electronic prescribing of controlled substances is allowed, it will have to be done carefully and securely. The easier it is to prescribe and obtain these drugs, the easier it may be for people and providers to abuse them.