E-Prescription Firm Receives a Political Boost
Source: Washington Post
Senate Bill Would Penalize Doctors Who Don't Use the Technology by 2011
By Zachary A. Goldfarb
Washington Post Staff Writer
An Alexandria company is hoping that recent political developments may help its mission to make the barely legible doctor's prescription a thing of the past.
SureScripts, a six-year-old, 50-person company owned by the two trade groups representing chain and independent pharmacies, operates a network that allows doctors to send prescriptions over the Internet to pharmacies.
It creates a single "infrastructure that can be deployed across all 50 states," said chief executive Kevin Hutchinson. "We're the pipes."
Electronic prescriptions are considered a key component in a long-discussed national system of electronic health records. Last week, lawmakers and the Department of Health and Human Services took several steps to speed the transition.
A bipartisan group of four senators introduced a bill that would provide financial bonuses to doctors under Medicare, the public health insurance program, who buy and use e-prescribing technology. It would also penalize doctors who don't use the technology by 2011.
"E-prescribing will save money, save time, save doctors from piles of paperwork and, most importantly, save lives," said one of the senators, John F. Kerry (D-Mass.).
Meanwhile, Mike Leavitt, secretary of Health and Human Services, sent a letter to lawmakers last week urging them to, among other things, put a premium on encouraging doctors to e-prescribe.
SureScripts doesn't create the software and hardware that doctors or pharmacies would use to type in or receive information. There are more than 100 vendors of such technology, which can be as modest as a tool for sending prescriptions or as big as a patient records system.
The firm takes "some of the variables out of the loop. You don't have to worry about which different drugstore you're dealing with," said Wes Rishel, an analyst at Gartner, a research firm.
Pharmacies pay SureScripts a processing fee of up to 21 cents a transaction. The company estimates it will handle 35 million prescriptions this year and 100 million the next. As a privately held company, it does not publicly disclose its profit or revenue.
Despite that projected growth, the number of electronic prescriptions is quite small. This year, electronic prescriptions are expected to account for just 2 percent of the nation's roughly 1.5 billion prescriptions, according to SureScripts.
Hutchinson said electronic prescriptions improve drug safety, reduce cost and are more convenient.
According to the Institute of Medicine, 7,000 patients die and an additional 1.5 million are injured each year by medication errors, including those resulting from bad handwriting and problematic communication among doctors and pharmacies. RxHub, a similar network established by the benefits companies, provides insurance information and medication history.
At its best, electronic prescribing software linked into the SureScripts and RxHub networks allows doctors to look up which medications patients are taking and receive alerts if medications conflict. Doctors can also choose the cheapest drug under a patient's insurance and send that information to the pharmacy.
But it doesn't always work that way.
"There's a lag behind the vision of what these things might be and where they stand right now," said Joy Grossman, a senior health researcher at the Center for Studying Health System Change.
Most doctors don't have full access to a patient's list of medications, and lists of drugs that might conflict aren't complete, she said. Doctors don't want to think about the costs of drugs, she added.
"They view that as the pharmacist's job," Grossman said. "They want to do what they think is clinically appropriate."
There are several other barriers.
One is cost. Electronic prescription software can cost a doctor up to $25,000. Until recently, some states banned electronic prescriptions. Some patients may worry about privacy, but health officials said such concerns are no greater than with paper prescriptions.
The Drug Enforcement Administration requires paper prescriptions for controlled substances, such as those used to treat mental illness. "Requiring that the original documents be maintained in paper form serves to support both the accuracy and integrity of each record," Joseph T. Rannazzisi, a senior DEA official, told Congress last week.
SureScripts has taken steps to try to expand. In May, it agreed to pay $500,000 to buy its chief competitor, increasing the size of its network. The pharmacy industry, looking to cut costs, has lobbied lawmakers to put incentives into legislation to accelerate e-prescribing.
"It becomes a first step in essentially the adoption of a fully robust electronic health record system," said Karen M. Bell, the director of the office of health information technology adoption in HHS.
作者:admin@医学,生命科学 2010-10-12 05:11