E-Prescribing Gets a Boost

Doctors using most electronic medical records systems can now send prescriptions to pharmacies electronically.

If network provider SureScripts gets its way, fax machines will be getting less busy in pharmacies and doctors offices across the nation. Thanks to SureScripts recent agreements with GE Centricity and NextGen, the major national EMR vendors will now let doctors offices send prescriptions to neighborhood pharmacies electronically.

Electronic medical records let physicians store and record patient information electronically; EMR systems can automatically target patients needing special care and ensure that physicians have ready access to a patients medical history, but software-based systems give way to paper-based systems when doctors write prescriptions for drugs. "The technology stops within the walls of the physicians office," said SureScripts CEO Kevin Hutchinson; EMRs might let physicians print out a prescription (solving issues of handwriting), but that piece of paper still needs to be carried or faxed to the pharmacy.

Now, physicians using most EMRs can skip that paper-based step because prescriptions will be sent directly from the doctors office to the pharmacy. Pharmacies can also send refill requests back to the physicians office for authorization.

Such connectivity will not just improve convenience, said Hutchinson, it will lead to enhanced care. For example, in February, SureScripts announced a plan to provide patients medication history to authorized physicians; this information can help doctors choose the best medication regimen.

Efficient connections between pharmacies and physicians will also facilitate ongoing care. Many medications for blood pressure, diabetes, and other chronic conditions are ineffective, not because the drugs dont work, but because patients dont take them.

A few programs attempt to monitor and improve compliance; for the most part these programs must rely on claims submitted to insurance companies or other health care payers. But claims do not provide crucial information about how and how often patients take pills. Further, they show only when a pharmacy submitted a claim for reimbursement, not when a patient picked up a prescription.

SureScripts CEO says that his company focused first on making sure that pharmacists could connect to physicians. More than 90 percent of U.S. drugs stores have become certified on the SureScripts network; about half are live on the network, Hutchinson said. Now, he said, the focus will shift to giving physicians the ability to connect directly with the pharmacy.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about pilot programs launched by the Department of Health and Human Services that will determine the standards for electronic prescriptions.

Hutchinson declined to speculate when a majority of prescribing physicians would have e-prescribing capabilities. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that physicians and surgeons held 567,000 jobs in 2004. SureScripts has now contracted with 50 clinical software vendors representing 150,000 physicians; just over 30 of these vendors have completed the certification process and are ready to allow e-prescribing. However, many physicians are using older versions of the software that does not support e-prescribing. Hutchinson expects to see surges in use as medical groups upgrade or adopt clinical software.

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