A patent dispute that threatens to cut off some mobile executives e-mails wont affect physicians who send prescriptions to pharmacies electronically. However, headlines wailing about BlackBerrys troubles may keep some physicians from adopting the technology.
Few doctors use BlackBerries for e-prescribing, largely because other types of devices generally support faster connections with office networks.
Neither Dr.First nor Allscripts support the BlackBerry technology for e-prescribing. ZixCorp supports BlackBerry, but estimates that under 10 percent of its subscribers use BlackBerries for e-prescribing.
E-prescribing, said advocates, can be used to cut medication errors and keep down health care costs.
Dan Sands, chief medical officer for ZixCorp, said none his clients had contacted him worried about potential BlackBerry issues. Thats partly because doctors working in their offices should have ready access to alternate technologies, he said. "If doctors are in their office, they have access to e-mail on their desktops."
In fact, John Halamka, CIO of Harvard Medical School, said that the patent dispute is "likely to have profound impact on disaster recovery and daily operations in IT departments," but unlikely to have much impact on e-prescribing.
But while the real impact on e-prescribing will probably be minimal, the perceived impact may be greater.
"Anytime we have a disruption like this, we have a trust factor," said Rick Ratliff, chief operating officer, SureScripts, a network that connects doctors offices to pharmacies electronically.
Overall, though, he said the conflict was "noise" that "would go away eventually."
Gregg Malkary, managing director of Spyglass Consulting Group, said the BlackBerry controversy provides a handy excuse for physicians who want to stick to paper-based prescriptions. "This could be the poster child for the doc that doesnt want to use technology," he said.
However, he said the dispute could have positive outcomes if it encourages doctors offices to make better deals with vendors. Offices should look for vendors that support multiple types of hardware, he said, and they should write clauses into service contracts so that vendors share the risks if anything catastrophic happens.
Doctors offices also need to have contingency plans in place to deal with any disruptions.
Even Malkary says e-prescribing technology faces bigger hurdles than any black eye that the BlackBerry dispute might give it.
First and foremost, physicians think the technology cuts into their bottom lines. Thats because physicians often have to pay for the technology themselves and because they worry that the extra time required for e-prescribing cuts down the number of patients that theyll be able to see in a day.
However, programs, like the eRx Collaborative in Massachusetts, that provide doctors equipment and financial incentives for e-prescribing are seeing steady increases in both the number of physicians participating and the number of prescriptions written electronically.