Walmart will continue accepting paper prescriptions after Jan. 1, despite initial plans to go completely electronic by 2020, in an effort to help curb the nationwide opioid epidemic.
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Officials at the retail giant told USA Today that not all prescribers are ready to transition to digital prescriptions, which is why the company decided to push back the implementation date at Walmart and Sam's Club stores to sometime next year, though a specific date has not been announced. Walmart said in May 2018 that paper prescriptions would only be accepted until Dec. 31, 2019.
"For several months, Walmart and Sam’s Club made a commitment to move to electronic prescribing (e-prescribing) for controlled substances by 2020," Walmart spokeswoman Marilee McInnis said in a statement to FOX Business. "We recognize not all provider networks and prescribers will have the technology and systems in place to accommodate this requirement, so we will continue to take non-electronic prescriptions so patients are not unintentionally negatively affected by this process."
Arizona, Florida, Iowa, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Rhode Island will require electronic prescriptions in an effort to stop people from using fraudulent or stolen paper prescriptions for controlled substances such as opioid painkillers by Jan. 1, 2020. The move is part of a broader effort to combat the country's opioid epidemic.
"We will continue to work collaboratively with prescribers to encourage their use of e-prescribing for controlled substances, as e-prescribing has the potential to reduce errors, misuse, abuse and diversion of prescription medications. E-prescribing is just one initiative in our opioid stewardship efforts, which are detailed on the website I reference above," McInnis added.
The American Medical Association (AMA), which sent a letter to Walmart in November asking the retail giant to delay e-prescriptions since only 44 percent of prescribers are ready for such a transition, praised the retail giant's decision to wait until after Jan. 1.
"The AMA welcomes Walmart’s decision to delay implementation of an electronic prescribing mandate that would have resulted in harm to millions of Americans, including many in rural areas who rely on Walmart as the only pharmacy in reasonable distance," AMA President Dr. Patrice Harris said in a statement to USA Today.
Paul Uhrig, chief administrative, legal and privacy officer for e-prescription technology company Surescripts outlined the disadvantages of paper prescriptions in a statement to USA Today.
"It eliminates paper prescriptions, which can be stolen, forged or altered, and gives prescribers electronic access to a patient’s prescription history to help identify potential overuse or abuse," he said.
E-prescriptions, he added, enhance "security, privacy and prescribing flexibility, as well as improved workflow efficiency for prescribers and pharmacists alike."