On March 27, 2016, New York became the first State to require electronic prescribing for both controlled and non-controlled substances and to provide for civil and criminal penalties for doctors failing to comply. Electronic prescribing means the patient no longer receives a paper prescription; rather, he or she chooses a pharmacy to which the electronic prescription will be sent directly. For security and privacy reasons, prescribers and pharmacists in New York must use encrypted systems to transmit electronic prescriptions and must employ heightened security measures for electronic prescriptions for controlled substances.

Not every prescription written in New York falls under the new requirement. For example, veterinarians may continue to use paper prescriptions, and physicians may use them for prescriptions to be dispensed outside New York, or during a temporary technological or electronic failure. Furthermore, the State Commissioner of Health has granted a blanket waiver on the new requirement in twelve “exceptional circumstances” including prescribing a substance containing two or more products compounded by a pharmacist, prescribing a substance that requires long or complicated directions, and prescribing a substance under a research protocol.

Replacing handwritten prescriptions with electronic ones furthers several objectives. Electronic prescriptions improve patient safety and convenience: handwritten prescriptions may lead to errors in dispensing medication if illegible, and they can be misplaced. In addition, electronic prescriptions will deter fraud and forgery and thereby help combat prescription opioid abuse, a major concern for the State government. On the other hand, the transition also brings potential disadvantages. Some patients are concerned about losing the ability to compare prices at different pharmacies. Furthermore, if the pharmacy runs out of the prescribed medicine, the patient cannot simply visit a different one; rather, the doctor would need to cancel the prescription by phone and then create a new electronic prescription for another pharmacy. On balance, early adopters report that most patients seem to prefer electronic prescriptions, according to an article in the New York Times.