Martha Valenzuela
Martha ValenzuelaStaff Editor

Deciphering a doctor’s handwriting on a prescription may soon be a thing of the past in Florida. While federal law will already require prescriptions for certain controlled substances to be transmitted electronically starting January 1, 2021, Florida has expanded the federal law. Going into effect a year earlier, on January 1, 2020, HB 831 requires those licensed to prescribe medicinal drugs to electronically transmit all prescriptions if the licensee: (1) maintains a system of electronic health records; or (2) is prescribing as an owner, an employee, or a contractor of a licensed health care facility or practice that maintains such a system and who is prescribing in his or her capacity as such an owner, an employee, or a contractor. These prescribers are now required to begin electronically transmitting prescriptions on the earlier date, of either their licensure renewal or July 1, 2021.

In enacting this law, Florida joins more than half of all U.S. states that require electronic prescribing in an effort to combat the opioid crisis and deter prescription drug fraud and abuse. Yet, as the law states, not all prescribers in the state are required to submit electronically, only those that “maintain a system of electronic health records.” Further, there are several exceptions that may apply to those that fall within the noted category based on the form requirements for certain prescriptions, the patient’s need and/or desire to compare prices among different pharmacies, technological limitations, etc.

However, the passage of this new law is a right step in not only providing legibility in prescriptions but also pushing prescribers to move into the technological age, as only 45% of prescribers are equipped to provide electronic prescriptions, a low figure compared to 96% of pharmacies. In fact, based on its pharmacies’ capability, Walmart had planned to only accept electronic prescriptions for controlled substances, but reversed at the urging of the American Medical Association because prescribers were not prepared.

While requiring more prescribers to transmit prescriptions electronically is a good thing, for the convenience it provides to patients and the deterrence of prescription drug fraud, it can be argued that not all patients are prepared or desire all prescriptions to be submitted by their doctors directly to pharmacies. As noted above, some patients would still like a handwritten prescription to compare prices at pharmacies. Further, as has been seen, technology is not perfect. The use of technology can lead to data breaches and frustration when systems crash. Recognizing these issues, HB 831 was enacted with various exceptions, allowing, in certain situations, for prescribers to continue using alternate means to transmit prescriptions.

Yet, HB 831 clearly indicates that handwritten prescriptions are no longer deemed the most efficient way to transmit prescriptions, and as the world has adapted to new technologies, it is time for more prescribers to favor electronic transmission over handwritten prescriptions.