NACDS, NCPA seek stimulus funds to build health IT, e-Rx infrastructure
ALEXANDRIA, Va. Just how far will that stimulus money stretch? And is there enough to help hard-pressed retail pharmacies pay the fare to ride the health information technology express?
Those are the questions posed by the chain and independent pharmacy industries as the Obama Administration’s health reform gurus draw up detailed plans for shifting the nation’s health care system to health IT and electronic patient records.
As part of its massive stimulus plan to restore momentum to the U.S. economy, the White House has charged the Department of Health & Human Services with allocating $2 billion — money included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act [ARRA] — to spur the use of the new technology by the nation’s antiquated, patchwork health care system. And both the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and National Community Pharmacists Association want some of that stimulus money on behalf of their members.
In a lengthy and pointed letter, NACDS and NCPA are reminding HHS officials of the key role community pharmacies will play in the conversion to electronic prescribing and electronic patient records. As such, note organization representatives, they should be among the health stakeholders in line for some of the $2 billion in funding.
The letter is signed by Kevin Nicholson, VP government affairs for NACDS; and John Coster, SVP government affairs for NCPA.
“We believe that widespread adoption of electronic prescribing is the most critical prerequisite for the adoption of electronic health records,” the two told David Blumenthal, national coordinator of health information technology for HHS. “As the most consumer-accessible health care provider, pharmacy’s critical role should be recognized in the development of an interoperable healthcare delivery system.”
Pharmacies, added NACDS and NCPA, “should be considered a high priority for any grant funding that fosters adoption of HIT.”
In the stimulus bill signed by President Obama, Congress directed Blumenthal’s office to “invest in the infrastructure necessary to allow for and promote the electronic exchange and use of health information,” noted the pharmacy groups in their letter. And among the health care providers included in that infrastructure, added Nicholson and Coster, are pharmacies.
“The pharmacy profession has been on the leading edge of the adoption of health information technology (HIT) for many years. We have been actively involved in fostering the use of technology to improve the quality of patient care and developing standards to allow the growth of HIT in pharmacy practice,” they told Blumenthal. “However, much work remains to be accomplished, including upgrading and expanding pharmacies’ existing electronic health records to meet the requirements of ARRA, and establishing and enhancing pharmacy connectivity with other health care providers, including prescribers.
“Although the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act and ARRA…already provide prescribers with financial incentives for electronic prescribing, no grant funding exists for pharmacies to enhance their electronic systems to keep pace with prescribers,” NACDS and NCPA point out. “Consequently, we believe that ONC should consider grant funding for pharmacies to enhance their electronic prescription functionality, which would allow pharmacies to upgrade their systems toward interoperable health records.”
The letter’s authors appealed to Blumenthal to give “priority consideration” to funding for “small independent and chain pharmacies that may not have had the resources to connect to the e-prescribing platforms, and may not have the upgrades in technology necessary to connect to various interoperable electronic health record systems.”
Air Products sells major portion of U.S. healthcare operations to Walgreens
LEHIGH VALLEY, Pa. Air Products announced it has sold all of its U.S. home infusion therapy services business and some elements of its respiratory and home medical equipment business to OptionCare Enterprises, a subsidiary of Walgreens.
The transaction includes Air Products’ ownership interests in certain of the companies previously operated as part of the Air Products Healthcare LLC Group, notably the home infusion therapy business of American Homecare Supply, Georgia (serving Atlanta and northern Georgia); Ultra Care and Dependicare (Chicago metropolitan area); Rx Pharmacy Services and Mosso’s Medical Supply Company (western Pennsylvania and Pittsburgh metropolitan area); Collins I.V. Care (Connecticut); and Air Products Healthcare Pharmacy (Lehigh Valley, Philadelphia metropolitan area and southern New Jersey).
Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
The transaction represents nearly 50% of the remaining Air Products Healthcare Group portfolio, and includes 15 locations with 550 employees serving about 25,000 patients.
Walgreens-OptionCare delivers quality, compassionate, patient-focused home infusion, respiratory/oxygen and medical equipment services through more than 100 accredited home care facilities in 36 states. The company’s clinical programs provide the expert care coordination expected by patients, physicians and insurance plans for successful outcomes.
Allow e-prescribing of controlled drugs, key senators urge Obama administration
NEW YORK Having the endorsement of 11 senators around an issue that has become a bit of tripping stone for the wholesale adoption of e-prescribing suggests that a more comprehensive rollout of the cost- and time-saving capabilities associated with e-prescribing, and the advancements an overall healthcare information technology e-prescribing adoption will afford, could be just around the corner.
At the very least, allowing controlled substances to be included in e-prescribing protocols removes a pretty significant impediment for the widespread adoption of e-prescribing. So far e-prescribing is in use today in about 18% of doctor’s practices. And it’s a much harder sell for the remaining 82% when they’re being asked to make the investment in e-prescribing software and still also have to keep their prescription pads on hand for controlled substances and to maintain, essentially, two sets of files.
The fact of the matter is you can’t have a seamless HIT infrastructure, including electronic health records, without including controlled substances as part of that medical record. Not enabling doctors and pharmacists to follow patients on pain meds and other controlled medicines as closely as e-health allows is counterintuitive to the whole HIT movement.
Momentum has been building for physician adoption of e-prescribing. Surescripts last month announced that more than 100,000 physicians have jumped aboard the e-prescribing bandwagon, with some 74,000 doctors actively prescribing electronically in 2008 — up 100% versus 2007. If these 11 senators can push this measure through, you can expect that number to ramp up even more quickly.