PHARMACY

Walgreens sees boom in e-prescriptions

BY Jim Frederick

DEERFIELD, Ill. The shift to paperless prescribing took a big leap forward at Walgreens in March, with 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 last month, marking a 211% increase compared with March of last year, the company reported Monday. 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 the drug store chain’s eligible prescriptions.

Walgreens estimated it will fill more than 40 million electronic prescriptions this year, compared with 15 million filled in 2008. The company said it expects 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’ senior VP of heath care 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,” Huonker said. “E-prescribing improves patient safety and quality of care by reducing medication errors and adverse drug events while also reducing time spent on the phone with physician offices to clarify hand-written prescriptions. The fewer times our pharmacists need to call a physician’s office and verify a prescription, the more time they have to focus on drug interactions, the right dosing and patient consultation.”

Walgreens launched an early, rudimentary e-prescribing network in 1992, making it “the first pharmacy to launch an electronic prescribing system” as well as “the industry leader in filling electronic prescriptions,” the company asserts in a statement. Nationally, some 4% of all eligible prescriptions were transmitted electronically last year, according to SureScripts, the country’s largest secure electronic prescribing network.

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Merck, Cardiome Pharma to collaborate, develop atrial fibrillation treatment

BY Alaric DeArment

VANCOUVER, B.C. Merck & Co. and Cardiome Pharma Corp. announced this week that they would collaborate to develop and commercialize a drug being investigated as a treatment for atrial fibrillation.

The agreement provides Merck with exclusive global rights to the oral formulation of vernakalant, designed for the maintenance of normal heart rhythm in patients with atrial fibrillation. It also provides Merck with exclusive rights outside North America for an intravenous formulation of the drug used for rapid treatment of the disease.

“This agreement underscores Merck’s ongoing commitment to the research and development of new cardiovascular drugs,” Merck Research Laboratories SVP and franchise head of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular Luciano Rossetti said. “Vernakalant is an important addition to our broad portfolio of products and candidates that target multiple aspects of heart disease.”

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FDA approves new topical treatment of head lice

BY Alaric DeArment

ROCKVILLE, Md. The Food and Drug Administration has approved a new prescription topical medication for treating head lice, the agency announced Thursday.

Sciele Pharma’s Benzyl Alcohol Lotion, 5% is the first head lice treatment approved by the FDA that uses benzyl alcohol as its active pharmaceutical ingredient. It is meant for patients ages 6 months and older.

“Head lice are a problem that impacts more than 1 million children each year and is easily transmitted to others,” FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research director Janet Woodcock said. “This drug is an effective first-line treatment to eliminate lice infestation and minimize disruption in the daily routines of families.”

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