The dawn of the electronic medication era

By Bob Brewin
12:00 AM

SAN DIEGO -- All-in-one electronic medication record that would be widely available to physicians and patients took a step closer to becoming reality Monday at the start of the annual Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference.

SureScripts, the largest provider of electronic prescribing services in the United States, said major U.S. pharmacy chains and independent pharmacy owners nationwide have joined with the company to provide physicians -- and eventually patients -- with electronic medication records, no matter which local drugstore fills a prescription.

Kevin Hutchinson, president and chief executive officer at SureScripts, owned by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association, said the agreement is an industry-changing event. Nationally accessible electronic medication records could help prevent medication errors by ensuring that doctors have instant electronic access to a patient's medication history.

Hutchinson added that an electronic medication history will promote better health by ensuring that patients pick up and take their medications, which is important information for insurers and employers who pick up the bulk of the country's medication bill.

Patient access to a personal medication history is one of the core health care information technology projects backed by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, said Dr. David Brailer, national health IT coordinator, speaking Sunday at the 2006 CIO forum sponsored by the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives and HIMSS.

Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House and founder of the Center for Health Transformation, said in a statement that the SureScripts electronic medication plan represents "a dramatic step forward in building a 21st-century intelligent health system ? a system that delivers better health care at lower costs."

A SureScripts spokesman said the company will provide physicians with a single view of a patient's medication history from all clinicians and drugstores on its network. The spokesman added that the electronic record will also provide doctors with detailed instructions and allergy information for every prescription.

The Food and Drug Administration passed a regulation last fall that requires pharmaceutical manufacturers to electronically submit drug label information.

Hutchinson said SureScripts will regionally introduce the electronic medication record to doctors throughout the year, probably starting in the Northeast. He said SureScripts will work to make the same type of electronic medication history available to patients.

The SureScripts spokesman said that following a rigorous process to ensure compliance with federal privacy guidelines contained in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and state privacy laws, the company will provide consumers with their electronic medication records through personal electronic health records certified by SureScripts.