Patients who require prescriptions for controlled substances now have a more convenient way to obtain their needed medications. Beginning in October, outpatient providers at Novant Health in the greater Charlotte market will begin to transmit these prescriptions electronically.

“Patients will find that filling their controlled substance prescriptions is much more convenient,” said Dr. Keith Griffin, the co-chief medical information officer of the Novant Health medical group. “They will no longer have to wait for a printed copy at the provider’s office and then wait for it to be filled at a pharmacy.”

Novant Health is one of the first health care systems in North Carolina to offer the convenience of electronic prescriptions for controlled substances. By year’s end, it hopes to offer the service to patients throughout its entire system.

“The new program is about meeting regulatory compliance with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and state agencies, as well as creating greater convenience for our patients,” Griffin said. The DEA issued a rule in June 2010 that would allow the prescribing of all schedules of controlled substances electronically, but providers must meet stringent requirements set by the government.

Electronic prescribing of controlled substances save times for providers, too. Using a new two-factor authentication system called MyID, which includes a fingerprint reader, providers can transmit prescriptions for controlled substance medications to pharmacies quickly and securely.

The electronic prescriptions are processed by Surescripts, a secure third-party processor of prescriptions between providers and pharmacies. “The system combines the technology of Surescripts and the Epic electronic medical record to provide a seamless and safe approach for prescribing, transmitting and processing of prescriptions,” said Dave Garrett, senior vice president and chief information officer at Novant Health.

Becky Bean, PharmD, director of Novant Health’s population health pharmacy, added, “It makes life easier for pharmacists and providers as well, by eliminating the need to manually enter information into a database. That reduces the risk for human error.”

Another benefit to the community is that the program will help prevent prescription fraud and stop the practice of doctor shopping in which patients would visit multiple doctors in order to obtain multiple controlled substance prescriptions.

“Electronic prescribing of controlled substances is much more secure,” Bean said. “It avoids the risk for diversion and prescription fraud. Pharmacists can be sure that the prescription is legitimate since it’s sent electronically through the Surescripts platform.”

Prescription drug misuse is a huge problem in the U.S. More than 2 million Americans misused prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, Percocet or Vicodin in 2013. Every day, 44 people in the United States die from a prescription drug overdose.

And it’s a growing epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports overdose deaths caused by prescription painkillers have quadrupled since 1999 and even outnumbered heroin and cocaine overdoses by 2007.

Electronic prescriptions will help curtail inappropriate access to and use of prescription drugs. The program is expected to also help with patient safety by improving the legibility of provider prescriptions and allowing for fewer medication errors.

Patient health should also improve. An analysis by Surescripts, the nation’s largest electronic prescribing network, found that patients with e-prescriptions are more likely to follow drug treatment plans closely, creating improved patient outcomes and reduced medical visits for preventable illness. The company says that could result in $140 billion to $240 billion in health care savings over 10 years.