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ONC Data Shows Increase in ePrescribing Adoption for Controlled Substances

The ONC data revealed that 62 percent of prescribers used ePrescribing for controlled substances (EPCS) “often” in 2021 compared to 37 percent of prescribers in 2019.

Recent policy efforts have effectively increased ePrescribing for controlled substances (EPCS). However, continued work to support EHR integration of prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMP) is needed, according to an ONC data brief.

“In the midst of a growing drug overdose crisis, clinicians’ use of prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs) and EPCS technology is critical to improving opioid prescribing practices, informing treatment decisions, and supporting safe and effective patient care,” ONC officials noted in a HealthITBuzz blog post.

The data revealed that 62 percent of physician prescribers reported using EPCS “often” in 2021 compared to 37 percent of prescribers in 2019.

The data brief also outlines the widespread use of PDMPs in 2021, with more than three-quarters (78 percent) of physician prescribers indicating they checked their state’s PDMP before prescribing controlled substances to a patient for the first time.

While PDMP use remained relatively stable between 2019 and 2021, one-third of prescribers now access the PDMP through their EHR, compared with one-fifth in 2019.

“Identifying and measuring the benefits of PDMPs is an important step towards increasing their utility. A recent ONC study, using data from the 2019 NEHRS, added to the growing literature demonstrating benefits of PDMPs by showing greater frequency and ease of use among physicians with PDMPs integrated with their EHR,” the officials wrote.

PDMP-EHR integration increases the accessibility of PDMP data at the point of care, making that information more actionable for clinical decision support.

“Physicians who frequently checked their state’s PDMP and reported it was easy to use were more likely to report perceived benefits such as reduced prescribing of controlled substances, confirming the appropriateness of treatment, and improved care coordination,” the blog post noted.

In 2021, most physicians who checked their state’s PDMP reported experiencing at least one benefit associated with use.

However, the ONC officials emphasized that while the progress in physicians’ use of EPCS and PDMPs is promising, recent analyses underscore important areas for improvement.

“First, despite high rates of EPCS and PDMP use at the national level, rates of use varied by specialty, practice size, ownership, and EHR developer market share, suggesting targeted support may be needed to increase access and use in lower-resource settings,” they explained.

“Second, despite physicians’ widespread access to data from their state’s PDMP, the electronic exchange of PDMP data across state lines remains limited, restricting physicians’ ability to capture complete prescription histories of patients who received care in different geographic locations,” the ONC officials pointed out.

Lastly, they noted that while the share of physicians who reported accessing the PDMP through their EHR increased significantly from 2019 to 2021, over two-thirds of physicians still access the PDMP through an external system.

“This finding highlights the importance of continuing efforts to achieve PDMP-EHR integration, including the development of technical resources to guide organizations through the different phases of integration,” they wrote. “Moreover, it is important to ensure that integration drives value by embedding data in clinician workflows and powering actionable decision support tools to combat the opioid crisis.”

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