PHARMACY

Tread cautiously on health technology, pharmacy, PBM groups urge Congress

BY Jim Frederick

WASHINGTON The retail pharmacy community again is expressing alarm over new health information technology proposals in Congress that industry leaders fear would stymie the ability of community pharmacists to do their jobs and assure quality care for patients.

Congressional leaders serving on the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, also known as the HELP Committee, are now debating legislation to spur the rapid adoption of health information technology, including electronic transmission and storage of patient medical records and electronic prescribing. Pharmacy operators strongly support the healthcare system’s conversion to electronic recordkeeping and paperless prescribing, but oppose measures that they fear would jeopardize pharmacy operations and patient relationships.

The Senate panel held a hearing this morning on how investing in HIT as part of efforts to recharge the severely wounded economy could promote better public health. In response, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores asked committee members on Thursday to tread carefully on HIT legislation.

In written testimony, NACDS aired the misgivings of its members. “We continue to have concerns that HIT legislation would include unworkable new provisions in the name of privacy that would impede the objectives of economic stimulus through HIT adoption,” the group told Senate HELP committee members. “Our primary concern is to assure that any legislation considered does not interfere with pharmacies’ ability to provide the communications necessary to ensure high-quality patient care, while assuring adequate protections for protected health information.”

NACDS reminded lawmakers that “chain pharmacy has been on the leading edge of the adoption of HIT for many years,” and reiterated pharmacy’s support for e-prescribing. “Chain pharmacy wholeheartedly supports the use of health information technology and efforts to spur its adoption across the healthcare community,” noted the group.

What’s more, retail pharmacy has been a long-time proponent of protecting patient privacy, NACDS testified. “Pharmacists are highly trusted health professionals, and take a back seat to no one when it comes to securing and protecting patient privacy,” the group told HELP Committee members. “But forcing us to adopt costly and administratively burdensome privacy requirements will hurt our ability to serve patients in a timely and effective manner.”

The first order of business in the push for an electronically enabled healthcare system, NACDS urged panel members, should be the universal adoption of e-prescribing. However, those efforts have been hampered by “the current Drug Enforcement Administration prohibition on electronic prescribing of controlled substances, which comprise approximately 15% to 20% of all prescriptions.” The group urged Congress to overturn DEA restrictions in its drive to promote HIT.

Also urging restraint is the pharmacy benefit management industry. In its own testimony on Thursday, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association suggested that lawmakers assure that any bill to promote electronic medical records provides incentives for the adoption of e-prescribing, and that health information technology meets minimum performance and integration standards.

“HIT legislation presents an opportunity for huge success, if policymakers ensure that all electronic medical records include basic safety tools like e-prescribing, which improves efficiency, affordability and access,” said PCMA president and CEO Mark Merritt. “However, spending billions on new HIT systems that don’t include e-prescribing, are not interoperable with other EMR technologies or contain unworkable privacy provisions would be more than just a waste of money – it would waste a historic opportunity to improve chronic care and prevent countless medical errors and hospitalizations.”

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MTI launches Rite Aid Radio

BY Michael Johnsen

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. Music Technologies International on Tuesday announced that it’s “Rite Aid Radio,” a music and messaging program designed exclusively for Rite Aid, is now available chainwide.

“We relished the opportunity to start from scratch with Rite Aid in creating a music environment that is much more ‘tune’ with their customers,” said Bradley Golden, president of MTI. “We feel that we have helped to create an even more inviting audio ambiance in the stores.”

MTI built the music library song by song to appeal to Rite Aid’s customers, the company stated, and also allows Rite Aid to broadcast messages to speak directly to its customers.

This partnership is actually the resumption of a relationship from the 1990’s when MTI provided a similar program to Rite Aid.

“Our number one priority is keeping our customers happy,” said Jerry Cardinale, Rite Aid senior vice president of indirect procurement. “We feel that MTI’s music and messaging program helps us achieve this goal. MTI shares our philosophy of absolute dedication to customer service.”

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Duane Reade announces $3.5 million settlement for Q4 2008

BY Antoinette Alexander

NEW YORK Duane Reade, without admitting liability, has announced a $3.5 million litigation settlement that will result in a $3.5 million one-time, pre-tax charge for the fourth quarter.

The two class action cases concern the retailer’s alleged past payment practices for certain overtime and employee non-exempt classifications.

The settlement is subject to the approval of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The company stated that while it believes it can “strongly defend against the matters involved in this litigation” it has decided to settle to avoid additional defense costs and uncertainty surrounding the litigation.

The retailer, which operates 251 stores, is expected to announce its fourth quarter and fiscal year 2008 results in March.

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