With the first phase of Medicare’s mandate for e-prescribing rolling out in January, healthcare IT leaders, led by Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt, gathered Tuesday in Boston to jumpstart the initiative.
“We know it saves lives, we know it saves money, and it’s time to implement it.”
Leavitt tied the nation’s current economic crisis to the rising costs of healthcare and noted that going electronic with prescriptions helps provide cost-savings for patients, doctors and the entire healthcare system.
“It’s an economic imperative in this country,” he said.
Imagine a virtual health clinic: Your lung doctor and heart specialist can pull up your online medical profile and chat, via instant messenger, about your medications. You schedule checkups online, create a wellness journal or even rate your general practitioner.
WellNet Healthcare, a Bethesda health management company, is launching the beta version of this social network, Point to Point Healthcare, this month. Since 1994, WellNet has built its business collecting detailed data on employees’ medical and pharmacy activity so that companies can better evaluate their corporate health plans.
WellNet’s clients nationwide — including Washington-area firms such as Peterson Cos., Dewberry, and Kiplinger Washington Editors — will be among the first to test-drive the new system. It lets employees create a personal network uniting their insurance claims manager with multiple doctors and pharmacies to better coordinate treatments. An online concierge helps workers find new specialists, and a message system reminds them to pick up prescriptions.
The move to get doctors to file prescriptions electronically is gathering steam and may get a further boost from new Medicare rules that give doctors money to go electronic — and take it away if they don’t.
From 2004 to 2007, e-prescriptions increased from 700,000 to 35 million, according to the company that routes e-prescriptions from doctors’ offices to pharmacies, Pharmacy Health Information Exchange operated by SureScripts. Still that only amounts to about 6% of U.S. doctors who regularly sent e-prescriptions in 2007.
The government is hoping to change that…
…But privacy advocates warn of problems.
Transforming prescriptions from scrawl into a standardized electronic format can make them even easier for pharmacies to sell and trade, violating patient privacy, says Tim Sparapani, senior legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Any time you put something in a digital format and standardize it, it becomes much more profitable and easy to move those records,” he says.
They dominated the headlines and made bold announcements that created huge impacts in the healthcare industry and across America.
Marquee names topped the results in our reader surveys for top policymakers, provider-based healthcare IT leaders who did the most innovative work in 2007 and vendor-based leaders who have advanced the cause of healthcare IT the furthest in 2007.
Policymakers: walking the walk
It seemed that every week Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt was making announcements. That constant visibility accounted for his being the runaway vote-getter as top policymaker of 2007.
From new standards for e-prescribing, personalized healthcare goals and global electronic health record standards to Medicaid transformation grants and commitment to healthcare system transparency, Leavitt is being touted for his healthcare IT focus. “Consistent messaging of the impact of technology on healthcare is penetrating every component of the industry,” said Kevan Nasserzadeh of Fair Isaac.
“I do not believe that the health IT battle will be won locally,” wrote in one reader. “Meaningful change will come from national initiatives such as those Mike Leavitt is driving, or at the least, the way will be paved by these early initiatives.”
President George W. Bush garnered support from businesses and other stakeholders for his value-driven healthcare plan with four cornerstone goals, including adoption of healthcare IT interoperability.
Despite his second-place finish, Bush has his detractors, most notably Deborah Peel, MD, of the Patient Privacy Rights. “Bush and his administration have pressed forward to create an illegal and unethical HIT system by eliminating patients’ right to control their personal health information,” she complained.
When a coalition of technology companies, insurers and health care providers launched a $100 million project last month to provide free electronic prescribing software to every physician in the United States, it was greeted with cheers. The presence of brand name vendors was supposed to ensure that sensitive prescription records would be private and secure.
But those who believe there is anything private about e-prescribing under the National ePrescribing Patient Safety Initiative (NEPSI) — or any other e-prescription system — are simply incorrect.
Security makes little difference because every identifiable prescription in the country is data mined and sold daily. Nobody needs to break into pharmacies to steal our prescriptions; they are for sale. For example, market intelligence firm IMS Health reported revenues of $1.75 billion in 2005 solely from the sale of prescription records, primarily to drug companies.
Privacy is the right to control who sees your sensitive health records and the right to decide if those records are even entered into electronic systems. But it is impossible for anyone to have a private prescription — meaning that it is never disclosed without a patient’s consent — because data mining has eliminated that right.
Furthermore, many people refuse to take psychiatric medication or other medications in an attempt to prevent the pharmacy benefits management industry from reporting to employers that they are on antidepressants or other medications.
Knowing that prescriptions are not private also keeps people with other sensitive illnesses from taking medications. And that exerts pressure on doctors to avoid prescribing pain medications — out of concern that the Drug Enforcement Administration is tracking their prescribing patterns. The lack of prescription privacy is a problem that endangers people’s lives and quality of life.