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A prescription is an authorization by a physician as required by the government for the patient to receive certain medication. Some, but not all, prescriptions are for substances listed as "controlled" by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

The Federal Register described the pattern of prescribing in the United States as follows:[1]

According to 2002 data from the National Center for Health Statistics, Americans made more than 823 million visits to physicians' offices in 2000 and, according to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), four out of five patients leave a doctor visit with at least one prescription. More than 3 billion prescriptions are written in the United States (U.S.), and prescription medications are used by 65 per cent of the U.S. public in a given year, according to an Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) 1999 report. Given this volume, even small improvements in quality that are attributable to e-prescribing may translate into significant cost benefits. ... According to some estimates, almost 30 percent of prescriptions require pharmacy call backs, resulting in 900 million prescription-related telephone calls that are placed annually.[2]


  1. 70 FR 6256, 6260 (Feb. 4, 2005).
  2. Hutchison, Kevin, SureScripts. Testimony before the NCVHS Subcommittee on Standards and Security, May 25, 2004.