In a few days — March 27 — New York will become only the second State (after Minnesota) to ban handwritten drug prescriptions and instead require e-prescriptions. And unlike the Minnesota law, the New York one has real teeth: Docs who use a paper and pen to prescribe drugs instead of a computer will face serious fines and even possible jail time. In other words, if they use a pen they may end up in the “pen”.
Why this law? Why now? Two reasons: (1) To avoid drug abuse through fraudulent prescriptions and (2) to avoid prescription errors due to physicians’ infamously illegible handwriting.
As for number 1 (fraud), opioid abuse is rampant these days. And handwritten prescriptions are a recipe for opioid abuse. Drug abusers are able to alter handwritten prescriptions to increase the quantity or dosage stated. But with e-prescriptions they won’t even touch the prescription. The e-prescription goes directly from the physician’s computer to the pharmacist’s, by-passing the patient completely.
As for number 2 (prescription errors), as medical malpractice attorneys we have seen our share of prescription mistakes due to poor handwriting. For example, a pharmacist will read a doctor’s handwritten “2” as a “9”, or a “3” as an “8”. The mistake can be deadly.
We are thrilled that New York has put an end to handwritten prescriptions. It’s about time! This law will save lives. We salute New York’s legislature for taking this important step.
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Michael G. Bersani, Esq.