April 2019

IZA DP No. 12275: Digital Waste? Unintended Consequences of Health Information Technology

Petri Böckerman, Mika Kortelainen, Liisa Laine, Mikko Nurminen, Tanja Saxell

forthcoming as 'Information Technology, Improved Access, and Use of Prescription Drugs' in: Journal of the European Economic Association

We exploit a large-scale natural experiment – the rollout of a nationwide electronic prescribing system in Finland – to study how digitization of prescriptions affects pharmaceutical use and health outcomes. We use comprehensive administrative data from patients treated with benzodiazepines, which are globally popular, effective but addictive psychotropic medications. We find no impact on benzodiazepine use on average, but among younger patients e-prescribing increases repeat prescription use. Younger patients' health outcomes do not improve but adverse outcomes, such as prescription drug abuse disorders and suicide attempts, increase dramatically. Improving access to medication through easier ordering may thus increase medication overuse.