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Paperless prescribing hits key milestones

BY Jim Frederick

Health technology advocates have passed a major milestone in the long campaign by pharmacies, technology vendors and health reform activists to shift the nation’s doctors beyond paper prescribing: the conversion of 100,000 physicians to the electronic transmission of prescriptions directly to dispensing pharmacies.

Surescripts, which operates the country’s largest national electronic prescribing network, announced last month that more than 100,000 doctors now are routing prescriptions electronically in the United States. “What’s more, the use of three critical components of e-prescribing—electronic prescription benefit, history and routing—jumped 61% in the first quarter of 2009,” Surescripts revealed.

That resulted in more than 134 million e-prescribing messages being exchanged among prescribers, payers and pharmacies, according to the company. “In the past two years, the United States has gone from 19,000 to 103,000 prescribers routing prescriptions electronically—punctuated by 39% sequential growth in prescriber adoption in the first quarter of this year,” said Harry Totonis, newly elected president and CEO of Surescripts. “The past two years have also witnessed a sevenfold increase in the use of e-prescribing.”

Recent trends at Walgreens bear out Surescripts’ national conclusions. In March, Walgreens recorded a tripling in the number of prescriptions filled electronically from year-earlier levels. And new government incentives to doctors will quickly push that level higher still, Walgreens predicted.

Walgreens pharmacies filled a record 3.1 million prescriptions electronically during March, marking a 211% increase compared with March of last year, the company reported. Even more striking: the total number of scripts sent via doctors’ e-prescribing systems and filled by Walgreens last month accounted for 15% of all of the chain’s eligible prescriptions.

Walgreens estimated it will fill more than 40 million e-prescriptions this year, compared with 15 million filled in 2008. The company said it expected growth to continue, as the federal government in January began providing financial incentives for doctors to transmit prescriptions electronically for Medicare patients as part of its campaign to nudge the nation’s healthcare system toward health information technology and electronic record-keeping.

Under that incentive program, doctors will earn a 2% bonus on their covered Medicare reimbursements for every Medicare script they transmit electronically instead of via a handwritten prescription handed to the patient.

Don Huonker, Walgreens SVP healthcare innovation, hailed the continued growth in e-prescriptions and said it contributes to lower health-care costs and better patient health. “Prescriptions transmitted electronically increase the likelihood that patients will get their prescriptions filled, benefit from their drug therapy and avoid more expensive medical procedures,” he said.

Despite the nationwide advances in e-prescribing tracked by Surescripts, however, Totonis urged stronger action. “While this growth shows clear evidence that the steps taken by policy-makers, prescribers, payers, pharmacies and others are having a positive impact,” he said, “swift and specific action is required for the United States to achieve mainstream adoption and use of e-prescribing.”

The advances described by Surescripts are reported in the annual National Progress Report on E-Prescribing. Among the report’s key findings:

By the end of 2008, 74,000 doctors were actively prescribing electronically, versus 36,000 at the end of 2007 and 16,000 in 2006;

Prescriber use of benefit information and prescription history grew from 37 million in 2007 to 78 million in 2008 and from 6 million in 2007 to 16 million in 2008, respectively;

Prescriptions routed electronically more than doubled from 29 million in 2007 to 68 million in 2008; and

By the end of 2008, increased participation by payers in e-prescribing enabled access to prescription benefit and history information for 65% of U.S. patients.

Seven states are connected to the Surescripts’ network through their pharmacy benefit managers to deliver prescription information for fee-for-service Medicaid patients.

At the end of 2008, approximately 76% of community pharmacies and six of the largest mail-order pharmacies in the United States were connected for prescription routing, Surescripts announced.

Three key factors helped drive the shift away from paper prescriptions last year, Surescripts reported. One of the biggest: growing attention among federal and state policy-makers to the cost and patient-safety benefits of e-prescribing. In addition, “National programs drove e-prescribing and offered practical tools to assist the industry in moving forward,” noted the company, and adoption of the new technology accelerated among public and private health-plan payers, prescribers and pharmacies.

Nevertheless, noted Surescripts, “The nationwide effort to replace paper prescriptions with more informed, paperless prescribing is far from over. Today, for example, only about 10% of eligible prescriptions are routed electronically.”

Totonis laid out an action plan for faster nationwide adoption that included several policy and business recommendations. Among them: redoubling efforts to convince the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration “to pass regulations that allow controlled substances to be electronically prescribed in a way that is workable and scalable,” and providing “education, financial incentives and implementation assistance for all prescribers, with a particular focus on addressing the needs of small and medium-size practices.”

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CVS opens Beauty360 No.3 in one of its original Project Life stores

BY DSN STAFF

NEW YORK — If anyone thinks that CVS has recast itself solely as a healthcare company, given its string of acquisitions in recent years — particularly, Caremark and MinuteClinic — they probably haven’t seen a Beauty360 store yet. In fact, standing in the middle of one of these 3,000 sq.-ft., high-end beauty boutiques, you might have a hard time recognizing you were in a CVS store at all.

Beauty360 is the culmination of the long-time vision and an awful lot of hard work on the part of several key individuals, most notably, CVS’ top merchant Mike Bloom, VP beauty merchandising Cheryl Mahoney, senior beauty category manager Mary Lou Gardner and Mike LePage, director, retail innovations and store design. Importantly, it is also a very bold statement that, for as much energy as CVS Caremark devotes to driving solutions that save lots of money for big payers of health care, it is very much still focused on its stores, and using other areas beyond health and wellness to spark innovation and create reasons for customers to shop their stores.

You want to talk about growing the market basket? How about adding a whole other basket? With prices on many items topping $100, Beauty360’s contribution to overall store profitability is palpable. According to CVS executives, sales in the two other locations the company operates in Mission Viejo, Calif., and Washington, D.C., are well ahead of expectations.

And why wouldn’t they be? No woman in her right mind, with at least a minute or two to spare, isn’t going to check out Beauty360 — particularly in the ritzy neighborhoods the chain is putting the stores in. The average household income in Mission Viejo is roughly twice the national average; in terms of shopping, Fodor’s calls Dupont Circle “a younger, less staid version of Georgetown — and almost as pricey”; and the newest Beauty360 in Ridgefield, Conn., is surrounded by seven-figure homes. Bloom says CVS is planning to a whole bunch of them into the former Longs stores it is currently converting, which includes many more posh areas to pick from.

With just 30 of the stores planned by the end of the year, and about 50 by this time next year, it likely will be a while before the impact of Beauty360 begins to be seen in CVS’ earnings. In the meantime, you can expect sales per square foot to balloon in the stores that share a roof with a Beauty360.

Beauty360 is an important message to its competitors that CVS hasn’t forgotten about the importance of creating excitement in its stores.

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SDI launches iPhone, iPod application for allergy sufferers

BY DSN STAFF

NEW YORK The addition of SDI’s Pollen.com allergy applications to the growing number of iPhone/iPod touch-friendly, health-related applications is just the latest example of how an e-health evolution is more and more becoming a part of America’s daily lexicon.

 

Already, there are more than 100 health-related applications available for the Apple products, including FDA for iPhone and WebMD Mobile. According to Apple COO Tim Cook, those apps are available to some 37 million users — that’s how many iPhones and iPod touches are currently on the market.

 

 

Concerned about what exactly those food additives in your favorite snack are? There’s an app for that. Worried about your blood pressure or heart rate? There’s an app for that. Want to know what your blood-sugar level means? There’s an app for that, too.

 

Indeed, while SDI was preparing for its official Pollen.com iPhone app launch, two Northwestern University teams took home the top two prizes awarded in the Diabetes Mine Design Challenge last week. The challenge? Develop an iPhone app that diabetics could use to help manage their condition.

 

Next month, Apple plans to release an updated iPhone 3.0 with support for Bluetooth-enabled medical peripheral devices, like Johnson & Johnson’s LifeScan glucometer. And while Apple is updating its iPhone capabilities, Palm will be introducing its Palm Pre, slated to debut June 6 on the Sprint network. The Palm Pre is expected to give Apple’s iPhone a run for its money, but at the very least, it’ll open the door of health-related mobile apps to that many more users.

 

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