Digital Remedy

Platform will ease drug prescription process.

Automating the supply chain has been an ongoing effort in areas such as manufacturing. But with the help of a new, dedicated transaction network, supply chain management is reaching a new market: drug prescription.

Executives from a dozen national pharmacy chains late last month announced the formation of the Chain Pharmacy Advisory Council to provide strategic and technical input for a technology platform that simplifies the electronic prescribing process for pharmacists and physicians. Their number included such big names as CVS Corp., Walgreen Co., Rite Aid Corp., Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Eckerd Corp.

The platform, SureScripts Messenger Services, developed by SureScript Systems Inc., is an online network to which pharmacies can connect.

"We spent the last two years developing the transaction network," said Kevin Hutchinson, SureScripts CEO, who relates it to the evolution of the ATM, or automated teller machine, network. "We all had to get in our car and drive to the only ATM we could use, on the building outside our bank. Then they started spreading out to where there was seven ATMs lined up, and we would have to look on the back of our bank card to see which ATM supported [our banks network]."

"Then they all went away, and there is a single ATM because of the network on the back end," said Hutchinson, who is hoping the SureScripts back end takes the similar path of the ATM network.

Currently, more than 75 percent of the chain pharmacies in the country have committed to driving electronic prescriptions through the SureScripts network. Twenty percent are in the process of completing the certification process to connect to the gateway.

The idea is to create an electronic prescription system that is compatible with the major physician and pharmacy software programs in the United States.

Launched in Rhode Island last month, the SureScripts network will roll out over the next two months in Massachusetts. Launches in Ohio, Indiana and California are in the works, as are rollouts in Arizona, Texas, the Carolinas, Illinois and New York, which are scheduled between this year and next year.

In its third iteration, SureScripts Messenger Services is a single application that runs out of a data center in Atlanta. The network is built on Microsoft Corp.s .Net Framework.

To use the network, pharmacies and physicians must become SureScripts-certified, a process that entails four phases: connectivity, application modification, testing and production.

Electronic prescription transactions aside, the goal of the pharmacy advisory group is making prescriptions safer for consumers through accurate drug interaction checking, error-free prescription filling and the adoption of clinical data standards.

SureScripts is working with the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs, which is a standard-setting organization focused on health care electronic transactions, to expand the scope of the current Script Standard Format, Version 4.2.

The key to the success of SureScripts is getting physicians to adopt the program, according to Jim Smith, senior vice president of health care services at CVS.

"The biggest hang-up will be the doctors office because while theyre wired for the Internet, they dont have that [capability] in examining rooms," said Smith, in Woonsocket, R.I. "So when the doctor gets ready to write a script, it would be better and more efficient to have [the system] in the exam room."

Dr. Robert Mathieu, an internist with Anchor Medical Associates, in Providence, R.I., is beta testing the network, using PDAs to transmit prescriptions.

"I found it to be very helpful having a pharmacist sending us refills electronically," said Mathieu. "Thats where its going to save us a lot of time. Its been a little bit slow trying to do prescriptions in the exam room. Im leaning towards using my desktop PC [because it is] a lot quicker."

Mathieu said there have been some glitches on the pharmacy end; for example, pharmacists havent received some prescriptions, or they are not getting all the information.