Take Two of These and E-Mail Me in the Morning

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It's too late for one West Texas family, but it may not be long before illegible scrawls on prescription pads go the way of leeches. Enter the latest boon of the information age: e-prescribing. A company called Allscripts, with help from Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft, has developed a hand-held wireless device that allows doctors to deliver your Rx straight to the pharmacist's computer. Given the rapid increase in drugs with similar names, it's a technology that could save medical careers, not to mention lives. Last week in West Texas, a court ordered cardiologist Ramachandra Kolluru to pay $225,000 to the family of a heart patient who died after receiving the wrong medication. He got Plendil instead of Isordil, because the pharmacist couldn't read what Kolluru had ordered.

"Physicians are not known for their wonderful handwriting," notes Glenn Tullmang, CEO of Allscripts. In fact, around 150 million calls are made every year to doctors' offices from puzzled pharmacists calls that Tullman's software aims to eliminate. And because 90 percent of the country's managed-care providers are already on board, the device also tells doctors which drugs a patient's insurance will cover. The only thing stopping your M.D. from signing up for the device, launched this month, is a legible signature.