New Jersey Blues plan offers e-prescribing freebies

The plan is spending $3 million to get doctors to switch to electronic prescribing.

By — Posted May 16, 2005

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Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey is launching a $3 million electronic prescribing program as part of what the plans says is an effort to improve patient safety, care and lower costs.

Under the program, the insurer will give free electronic prescribing software to the first 700 physicians, out of approximately 10,000 high prescribers in its network, who sign up for it. To entice doctors, Newark, N.J.-based Horizon is not only funding the cost of the software, but also the cost of wireless personal digital assistants, said Jay Patel, the plan's manager of business development.

The Blues plan also will cover the cost of training physicians and supporting e-prescribing software from Caremark Rx Inc., a Nashville, Tenn.-based pharmacy benefit manager. Doctors, however, will have to pay for a high-speed Internet connection.

It remains to be seen whether the offer of free software and support will be enough to lure physicians into ditching their prescription pads. Other insurers have unsuccessfully attempted to encourage doctors to prescribe electronically by offering free software, hardware or both. In 2004, for example, WellPoint Inc., Indianapolis, rolled out a $42 million program under which it offered 19,000 doctors in four states a choice of either a handheld-based e-prescribing system or a desktop-based practice management system. An overwhelming majority -- 88% -- opted for the administrative rather than clinical system.

Horizon is well aware that giveaways haven't fared well or led doctors to alter their prescribing behavior on a permanent basis, Patel said. That's one reason why its "package" includes paying for physician training and support.

Also, Horizon will pay doctors quarterly financial incentives in order to sustain their use of the system after it's installed. The Blues anticipates that the incentives, based on the percentage of prescriptions physicians write, will be available for at least one year, Patel said.

The insurer expects that it will have to approach 7,000 physicians in order to sign 700, he said, based on a projected sign-up rate of 10%.

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