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With e-Rx poised for breakout, SureScripts mulls next move

BY Jim Frederick

ALEXANDRIA, Va. —The planned departure of Kevin Hutchinson as president and chief executive officer of SureScripts comes at a propitious time for electronic prescribing and the nationwide conversion to health information technology.

Hutchinson, who has led the pharmacy-sanctioned e-prescribing platform provider since August 2002, announced in December he would leave at the end of this month. SureScripts’ chief operating officer, Rick Ratliff, will serve as acting CEO.

SureScripts spokesman Rob Cronin said Hutchinson “is looking for his next opportunity.

“Kevin has always seen himself as a builder, so he’s looking for an opportunity similar to the one he found at SureScripts when he joined,” Cronin told Drug Store News. “He sees e-prescribing as hitting or about to hit its tipping point, so he feels now is a good opportunity to look for another chance to build.”

Hutchinson, he added, plans to stay within the health information technology field.

Since taking charge of SureScripts shortly after its launch by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association, Hutchinson has led the effort to build a neutral nationwide network for e-prescribing and electronic transmission of patient health data. Under his watch, the Pharmacy Health Information Exchange has gone from concept to launch to its current position as the most successful and widespread network for electronic prescribing and pharmacy integration.

With the nation’s physicians beginning to take advantage of health information technology—and the costs they’ll bear for converting to e-prescribing systems dropping—conditions appear to be ripening for a massive, nationwide transition away from paper prescribing and into a new era of electronic storage and transmission of patient records. Hutchinson, as much as anyone in the field, has championed a more integrated network of prescribing physicians, pharmacists, testing labs and other members of the healthcare spectrum, linked through electronic communications systems and health information technology.

Those efforts clearly are gaining traction. In 2007, more than 35,000 prescribers electronically connected to more than 40,000 community pharmacies and generated more than 35 million electronic prescription transactions. In 2008, SureScripts predicts that e-prescription transaction volume will nearly triple.

“Leading the team at SureScripts has been the most rewarding work of my career,” Hutchinson said. “I want to thank the nation’s community pharmacies for their unwavering support of SureScripts and their unprecedented cross-industry collaboration.

“I am leaving on the heels of a breakthrough year for e-prescribing, and while the wind is clearly at our backs, there remains much work to be done,” Hutchinson added. “E-prescribing must remain a national priority.”

Hutchinson spoke highly of his interim successor. “Rick has co-led this effort with me from the beginning and leads a strong management team that stands ready to guide SureScripts through its continued growth,” he said.

Industry leaders praised Hutchinson for his leadership. “At the beginning, middle and end of each day, it’s all about the patient,” said CVS Caremark chairman and CEO Tom Ryan. “Kevin and the SureScripts team have played a pivotal role in…pharmacy’s efforts to electronically link and bring together physicians, payers and pharmacists to better serve patients with safer and more cost-efficient care.”

Added Bruce Roberts, executive vice president and CEO of the National Community Pharmacists Association and co-chairman of SureScripts, “Electronic prescribing would not be where it is today without Kevin’s leadership over the past five-plus years. SureScripts’ efforts to enable independent pharmacies for electronic prescribing have helped ensure the continued and valuable role played by our member pharmacies in communities across the United States.”

Between now and his planned departure, Hutchinson said he would continue to support efforts by Health and Human Services secretary Michael Leavitt and Congress to spur physicians and pharmacies to adopt e-prescribing technology into their practices through financial and other incentives.

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S&P revises outlook on Rite Aid

BY Michael Johnsen

NEW YORK Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services revised its outlook on chain drug retailer Rite Aid to negative from stable, the firm reported Friday. At the same time, S&P affirmed the ‘B’ corporate credit rating on Rite Aid.

“The outlook change reflects the company’s weak same-store sales and our expectation that this trend will continue over the next few quarters,” stated Standard & Poor’s credit analyst Diane Shand. Rite Aid faces a more cautious consumer, strong growth of lower-priced generics and intense competition, she said. In addition, the current environment could make it more challenging for the company to integrate its recently-acquired Brooks/Eckerd stores.

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Boston Mayor decries in-store health clinics

BY Antoinette Alexander

BOSTON On the heels of the Massachusetts Public Health Council approving regulations allowing for in-store health clinics in the state, Boston Mayor Thomas Menino is reportedly looking to ban the clinics from opening in the city.

The decision by the health council “jeopardizes patient safety,” Menino said in a written statement, according to a Boston Globe report. “Limited service medical clinics run by merchants in for-profit corporations will seriously compromise quality of care and hygiene. Allowing retailers to make money off of sick people is wrong.”

The newspaper also reported that, in a separate letter, the mayor urged members of the city’s Public Health Commission to consider banning the clinics from opening within Boston. CVS has plans to open 20 to 30 MinuteClinics in the Greater Boston area but it is unclear how many of those would be within the city’s limits.

Defending its decision to allow clinics to operate, the state Public Health Council issued a statement that read: “The members of the Public Health Council were deliberative and thoughtful in their review of the limited service clinic regulation. We believe these types of clinics, operated either as part of a retail operation or in a nonprofit setting, can provide the public access to safe, convenient, and quality care for minor health issues.”

Officials at MinuteClinic were not immediately available for comment.

On Jan. 9, the state Public Health Council approved rules for limited service medical clinics. The new regulations took effect immediately.

“This is a new model for health care delivery that can benefit many people in the Commonwealth. These regulations will improve consumer convenience and make it easier for non-profit organizations to establish satellite clinics in a variety of settings to serve vulnerable populations,” stated secretary of Health and Human Services JudyAnn Bigby in a statement issued after the approval.

Added John Auerbach, commissioner of the Department of Public Health and chair of the PHC, “Properly regulated, these types of clinics will serve an important function, making care for minor medical care more convenient. The council was mindful of not wanting to create a stand-alone system of health care, so these regulations require coordination and linkages to primary care providers.”

The approval came at the end of a long review process that included two public hearings and the submission of hundreds of pages of testimony regarding the regulations, including testimony in favor of the clinics from the Convenient Care Association.

“We appreciate the Public Health Council’s careful deliberation regarding the adopted regulations that will now guide the operation of limited services clinics in Massachusetts. These retail-based clinics are providing consumers in 35 other states with easy access to high-quality, affordable health care in the face of a nationwide primary care physician shortage. Since this growing shortage is well documented in Massachusetts, and its related health care access issues have been exacerbated by the state’s near-universal healthcare coverage, we appreciate the Council embracing limited services clinics as a partial solution to these serious problems,” said Web Golinkin, president of the CCA and chief executive officer of in-store clinic operator RediClinic, in a statement issued after the council’s decision.

Sparking the move to create specialized regulations for these clinics was CVS’ application to open a MinuteClinic in one of its stores in Weymouth. According to the council, early in the application review process it became clear that DPH regulations governing medical clinics did not address the operation of medical clinics with limited scope of services. Rather than consider applications requiring numerous waivers from full-service clinic regulations, the department decided to create a specialized set of rules.

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