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Conquering Medication Errors: Better Tools, Better Reconciliation

Posted on February 27, 2018 I Written By

The following is a guest blog post by Greg Anderson, Senior Business Advisor, Surescripts.

For years now, prescribing has been growing more complex. Between 1994 and 2014, the percentage of the U.S. population taking three or more prescription drugs nearly doubled, and as of 2014, nearly 11 percent had taken at least five prescription drugs within a 30-day period.

As important as these medications may be, every new drug prescribed introduces a new possibility for error. And this increased complexity is indeed having dangerous effects. Medication errors made by patients and their caregivers outside healthcare facilities doubled between 2000 and 2012, according to a 2017 study. That’s not even counting the estimated 40 percent of medication errors that spring from another source: inadequate reconciliation.

Accurate Reconciliation: High Barriers, High Stakes

Medication reconciliation can be a frustrating task in any setting. Compiling an accurate medication list can easily take 45 minutes when care providers need to not only consult with the patient, but also reach out to pharmacies, pharmacy benefit managers, other physician offices and family members to get the full story. Achieving accuracy is especially daunting in acute care settings, when time is of the essence and memory-impeding stress is heightened. Records of medications prescribed and taken are often far from complete, leaving care teams reliant on whatever history patients and their families can patch together.

A lot can go wrong when medications fall into the gaps. One study of hospital patients taking at least four prescription medications found that a majority of patients had at least one medication not identified upon admission, and 38.6 percent of these reconciliation errors had the potential to cause significant discomfort or adverse health outcomes. A recent study of 306 medically complex patients found up to seven errors per patient in medication histories.

When a healthcare provider misses a drug, consequences can range from treatment interruptions to incorrect treatment decisions. Inevitably, some of these medication errors lead to the most common cause of iatrogenic harm: adverse drug events (ADEs), which send nearly 700,000 people to emergency departments each year.

The Best Defense Against ADEs

Not all medication errors can be foreseen and eliminated, but there’s reason to believe we can greatly reduce the 10 percent of ADE-related emergency department visits that stem from medication errors. Researchers estimate that 50 to 70 percent of ADEs that lead to hospital admissions are preventable.  And there’s one tactic in particular that’s been shown to make a serious difference: consistent medication reconciliation, aided by access to electronic medication history. More than half of the medication errors in one 2008 study of primary care clinics could have been prevented with the help of electronic tools. That’s in line with the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s findings that “anywhere from 28 to 95 percent of ADEs can be prevented by reducing medication errors through computerized monitoring systems.”

Recent studies in clinical settings have borne out insights like these. In 2016, the Cedars-Sinai Health System performed a study assessing medication history errors among older adults on complex medication regimens. Researchers determined that accessing pharmacy fill and PBM claims data for those patients via Surescripts Medication History for Reconciliation would likely have prevented 35 percent of admission medication history errors and 31 percent of resultant inpatient order errors. Those percentages rise when considering only severe errors.

By helping doctors avoid prescribing errors, effective medication history solutions can also help patients make fewer medication mistakes at home. Eliminate redundant or conflicting prescriptions, and you also eliminate opportunities for patients and their caregivers to become confused. Even in a world of increasing prescription complexity, we can work as an industry to reduce many types of medication errors. We just need the right tools to collaborate and to make informed care decisions together.

Patients Frustrated By Lack Of Health Data Access

Posted on January 3, 2017 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

A new survey by Surescripts has concluded that patients are unhappy with their access to their healthcare data, and that they’d like to see the way in which their data is stored and shared change substantially.  Due to Surescripts’ focus on medication information management, many of the questions focus on meds, but the responses clearly reflect broader trends in health data sharing.

According to the 2016 Connected Care and the Patient Experience report, which drew on a survey of 1,000 Americans, most patients believe that their medical information should be stored electronically and shared in one central location. This, of course, flies in the face of current industry interoperability models, which largely focus on uniting countless distributed information sources.

Ninety-eight percent of respondents said that they felt that someone should have complete access to their medical records, though they don’t seem to have specified whom they’d prefer to play this role. They’re so concerned about having a complete medical record that 58% have attempted to compile their own medical history, Surescripts found.

Part of the reason they’re eager to see someone have full access to their health records is that it would make their care more efficient. For example, 93% said they felt doctors would save time if their patients’ medication history was in one location.

They’re also sick of retelling stories that could be found easily in a complete medical record, which is not too surprising given that they spend an average of 8 minutes on paperwork plus 8 minutes verbally sharing their medical history per doctor’s visit. To put this in perspective, 54% said that that renewing a driver’s license takes less work, 37% said opening a bank account was easier, and 32% said applying for a marriage license was simpler.

The respondents seemed very aware that improved data access would protect them, as well. Nine out of ten patients felt that their doctor would be less likely to prescribe the wrong medication if they had a more complete set of information. In fact, 90% of respondents said that they felt their lives could be endangered if their doctors don’t have access to their complete medication history.

Meanwhile, patients also seem more willing than ever to share their medical history. Researchers found that 77% will share physical information, 69% will share insurance information and 51% mental health information. I don’t have a comparable set of numbers to back this up, but my guess is that these are much higher levels than we’ve seen in the past.

On a separate note, the study noted that 52% of patients expect doctors to offer remote visits, and 36% believe that most doctor’s appointments will be remote in the next 10 years. Clearly, patients are demanding not just data access, but convenience.

Rival Interoperability Groups Connect To Share Health Data

Posted on December 27, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Two formerly competitive health data interoperability groups have agreed to work together to share data with each others’ members. CommonWell Health Alliance, which made waves when it included Cerner but not Epic in its membership, has agreed to share data with Carequality, of which Epic is a part. (Of course, Epic said that it chose not to participate in the former group, but let’s not get off track with inside baseball here!)

Anyway, CommonWell was founded in early 2013 by a group of six health IT vendors (Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, athenahealth, Greenway Medical Technologies and RelayHealth.) Carequality, for its part, launched in January of this year, with Epic, eClinicalWorks, NextGen Healthcare and Surescripts on board.

Under the terms of the deal, the two will shake hands and play nicely together. The effort will seemingly be assisted by The Sequoia Project, the nonprofit parent under which Carequality operates.

The Sequoia Project brings plenty of experience to the table, as it operates eHealth Exchange, a national health information network. Its members include the AMA, Kaiser Permanente, CVS’s Minute Clinic, Walgreens and Surescripts, while CommonWell is largely vendor-focused.

As things stand, CommonWell runs a health data sharing network allowing for cross-vendor nationwide data exchange. Its services include patient ID management, record location and query/retrieve broker services which enable providers to locate multiple records for patient using a single query.

Carequality, for its part, offers a framework which supports interoperability between health data sharing network and service providers. Its members include payer networks, vendor networks, ACOs, personal health record and consumer services.

Going forward, CommonWell will allow its subscribers to share health information through directed queries with any Carequality participant.  Meanwhile, Carequality will create a version of the CommonWell record locator service and make it available to any of its providers.

Once the record-sharing agreement is fully implemented, it should have wide ranging effects. According to The Sequoia Project, CommonWell and Carequality participants cut across more than 90% of the acute EHR market, and nearly 60% of the ambulatory EHR market. Over 15,000 hospitals clinics and other healthcare providers are actively using the Carequality framework or CommonWell network.

But as with any interoperability project, the devil will be in the details. While cross-group cooperation sounds good, my guess is that it will take quite a while for both groups to roll out production versions of their new data sharing technologies.

It’s hard for me to imagine any scenario in which the two won’t engage in some internecine sniping over how to get this done. After all, people have a psychological investment in their chosen interoperability approach – so I’d be astonished if the two teams don’t have, let’s say, heated discussions over how to resolve their technical differences. After all, it’s human factors like these which always seem to slow other worthy efforts.

Still, on the whole I’d say that if it works, this deal is good for health IT. More cooperation is definitely better than less.

E-Patient Update: The Smart Medication Management Portal

Posted on December 16, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

As I work to stay on top of my mix of chronic conditions, one thing that stands out to me is that providers expect me to do most of my own medication tracking and management. What I mean by this is that their relationship to my med regimen is fairly static, with important pieces of the puzzle shared between multiple providers. Ultimately, there’s little coordination between prescribers unless I make it happen.

I’ve actually had to warn doctors about interactions between my medications, even when those interactions are fairly well-known and just a Google search away online. And in other cases, specialists have only asked about medications relevant to their treatment plan and gotten impatient when I tried to provide the entire list of prescriptions.

Sure, my primary care provider has collected the complete list of my meds, and even gets a updates when I’ve been prescribed a new drug elsewhere. But given the complexity of my medical needs, I would prefer to talk with her about how all of the various medications are working for me and why I need them, something that rarely if ever fits into our short meeting time.

Regardless of who’s responsible, this is a huge problem. Patients like me are being sent with some general drug information, a pat on the back, and if we experience side effects or are taking meds incorrectly we may not even know it.

So at this point you’re thinking, “Okay, genius, what would YOU do differently?” And that’s a fair question. So here’s what I’d like to see happen when doctors prescribe medications.

First, let’s skip over the issue of what it might take to integrate medication records across all providers’s HIT systems. Instead, let’s create a portal — aggregating all the medication records for all the pharmacies in a given ZIP Code — and allow anyone with a valid provider number and password to log in and review it.  The same site could run basic analytics examining interactions between drugs from all providers. (By the way, I’m familiar with Surescripts, which is addressing some of these gaps, but I’m envisioning a non-proprietary shared resource.)

Rather than serving as strictly a database, the site would include a rules engine which runs predictive analyses on what a patient’s next steps should be, given their entire regimen, then generate recommendations specific to that patient. If any of these were particularly important, the recommendations could be pushed to the provider (or if administrative, to staff members) by email or text.

These recommendations, which could range from reminding the patient to refill a critical drug to warning the clinician if an outside prescription interacts with their existing regimen. Smart analytics tools might even be able to predict whether a patient is doing well or poorly by what drugs have been added to their regimen, given the drug family and dosage.

Of course, these functions should ultimately be integrated into the physicians’ EMRs, but at first, hospitals and clinics could start by creating an interface to the portal and linking it to their EMR. Eventually, if this approach worked, one would hope that EMR vendors would start to integrate such capabilities into their platform.

Now I imagine there could be holes in these ideas and I realize how challenging it is to get disparate health systems and providers to work together. But what I do know is that patients like myself get far too little guidance on how to manage meds effectively, when to complain about problems and how to best advocate for ourselves when doctors whip out the prescription pad. And while I don’t think my overworked PCP can solve the problem on her own, I believe it may be possible to improve med management outcomes using smart automation.

Bottom line, I doubt anything will change here unless we create an HIT solution to the problem. After all, given how little time they have already, I don’t see clinicians spending a lot more time on meds. Until then, I’m stuck relying on obsessive research via Dr. Google, brief chats with my frantic retail pharmacist and instincts honed over time. So wish me luck!

Will New Group Steal Thunder From CommonWell Health Alliance?

Posted on January 26, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

Back in March 0f 2013, six health IT vendors came together to announce the launch of the CommonWell Health Alliance. The group, which included Cerner, McKesson, Allscripts, athenahealth, Greenway Medical Technologies and RelayHealth, said they were forming the not-for-profit organization to foster national health data interoperability. (Being a cynical type, I immediately put it in a mental file tagged “The Group Epic Refused To Join,” but maybe that wasn’t fair since it looks like the other EHR vendors might have left Epic out on purpose.)

Looked at from some perspectives, the initiative has been a success. Over the past couple of years or so, CommonWell developed service specifications for interoperability and deployed a national network for health data sharing. The group has also attracted nearly three dozen HIT companies as members, with capabilities extending well beyond EMRs.

And according to recently-appointed executive director Jitin Asnaani, CommonWell is poised to have more than 5,000 provider sites using its services across the U.S. That will include more than 1,200 of Cerner’s provider sites. Also, Greenway Health and McKesson provider sites should be able to share health data with other CommonWell participants.

While all of this sounds promising, it’s not as though we’ve seen a great leap in interoperability for most providers. This is probably why new interoperability-focused initiatives have emerged. Just last week, five major HIT players announced that they would be the first to implement the Carequality Interoperability Framework.

The five vendors include, notably, Epic, along with athenahealth, eClinicalWorks, NextGen Healthcare and Surescripts. While the Carequality team might not be couching things this way, to me it seems likely that it intends to roll on past (if not over) the CommonWell effort.

Carequality is an initiative of The Sequoia Project, a DC-area non-profit. While it shares CommonWell’s general mission in fostering nationwide health information exchange, that’s where its similarities to CommonWell appear to end:

* Unlike CommonWell, which is almost entirely vendor-focused, Sequoia’s members also include the AMA, Kaiser Permanente, Minute Clinic, Walgreens and Surescripts.

* The Carequality Interoperability Framework includes not only technical specifications for achieving interoperability, but also legal and governance documents helping implementers set up data sharing in legally-appropriate ways between themselves and patients.

* The Framework is designed to allow providers, payers and other health organizations to integrate pre-existing connectivity efforts such as previously-implemented HIEs.

I don’t know whether the Carequality effort is complimentary to CommonWell or an attempt to eclipse it. It’s hard for me to tell whether the presence of a vendor on both membership lists (athenahealth) is an attempt to learn from both sides or a preparation for jumping ship. In other words, I’m not sure whether this is a “game changer,” as one health IT trade pub put it, or just more buzz around interoperability.

But if I were a betting woman, I’d stake hard, cold dollars that Carequality is destined to pick up the torch CommonWell lit. That being said, I do hope the two cooperate or even merge, as I’m sure the very smart people associated with these efforts can learn from each other. If they fight for mindshare, it’d be a major waste of time and talent.

HealthTap’s Integrated, Patient-Centered, Data-Rich Care

Posted on November 18, 2015 I Written By

Andy Oram is an editor at O'Reilly Media, a highly respected book publisher and technology information provider. An employee of the company since 1992, Andy currently specializes in open source, software engineering, and health IT, but his editorial output has ranged from a legal guide covering intellectual property to a graphic novel about teenage hackers. His articles have appeared often on EMR & EHR and other blogs in the health IT space. Andy also writes often for O'Reilly's Radar site ( and other publications on policy issues related to the Internet and on trends affecting technical innovation and its effects on society. Print publications where his work has appeared include The Economist, Communications of the ACM, Copyright World, the Journal of Information Technology & Politics, Vanguardia Dossier, and Internet Law and Business. Conferences where he has presented talks include O'Reilly's Open Source Convention, FISL (Brazil), FOSDEM, and DebConf.

Health reformers dream of integrated health delivery systems that leap across the barriers between providers, employers, insurers, and various supporting groups such as pharmacies and test labs. People who have investigated this goal realize that it can be achieved only by putting data in the hands of the patients. HealthTap recently announced a “health operating system” that suggests what this much-anticipated integration will look like.

In this article I’ll look at some of the building blocks HealthTap put in place, and then delve a bit into features of the health care landscape that support their work.

HealthTap has built an integrated health delivery system over a five-year period. They started with an audacious enough goal in its own right: signing up doctors to answer questions from the public. A couple dozen other capabilities were tacked on over time, such as ratings, various personalization features, and then checklists and a recommendation system for apps.

Doctor-to-doctor interaction is also built into HealthTap, echoing proposals in a 2012 book called #SOCIALQI. Doctors can check how peers handle cases similar to theirs, do online consultations, and carry out literal reviews online. Founder and CEO Ron Gutman describes the combined process as “virtual grand rounds.” And in a glowing endorsement by the medical establishment, HealthTap has won the right to grant CME to doctors for conducting these routine activities on its system.

Now the integrated impact of all these initiatives can be seen. Health care delivered through HealthTap might look something like this.

  1. An individual creates a HealthTap account directly with HealthTap, or in a private system that her clinic, hospital, or employer creates based on HealthTap. This brings the patient into the system, where information and other forms of communication take place. The provision of private environments run by single hospital or clinic is a recent innovation by HealthTap.

  2. The individual optionally adds information about personal data such as age, and conditions she is suffering from. HealthTap uses this to direct educational content at her, and to answer her questions in a personalized manner that is more informative than a typical web search. For instance, the query “Is aspirin good or bad for me?” would trigger answers that take the patient’s particular health information into account. HealthTap’s Personal Health Record (PHR) becomes the key component that links together the entire continuum of care.

  3. The patient can sign up for a reasonably-priced concierge service that allows her to request an online consultation with a doctor whenever she needs one. The doctor writes a SOAP note at the end of the consultation. He can also create a checklist of things to do (take medication every day, go to the gym, make a follow-up appointment in three months) and HealthTap will remind the patient to do these things in a way chosen by the patient to be convenient. HealthTap offers apps for both doctors and patients on all major mobile devices, including Apple Watch and Android Wear. Communications are HIPAA-compliant and have received SOC 2 Type II security certification, the highest level.

  4. A doctor can also order a lab test electronically. The patient can take the test and get results delivered directly and securely through HealthTap.

  5. All this information is stored in a record available to the patient. Therefore, data that used to be available only to institutions serving the patient (hospitals, insurers, labs, pharmacies), and was used only for marketing or improving service delivery, is now available to the patient.

  6. All the information ranging from patients’ online queries to test results become input into anonymized, aggregated sets that HealthTap gives health care providers. They can view dashboards of information about their patients, about people throughout their geographic area, about people with related conditions and demographics around the country, etc. Savvy institutions can use this data for value-based care and improving their outreach to at-risk patients.

Thus, a plethora of features that health care reformers are asking for appear in HealthTap, ranging from targeted educational materials to messages that promote compliance with treatment plans and even analytics. The service strives to make the experience as comfortable as possible for the patients, who have access to all their data.

The achievement of Ron Gutman, to whom I talked this week on the phone, and his crew is impressive. But we should also be aware that the technical infrastructure and features put in place by the health care industry play a crucial role. These include:

  • ePrescribing systems such as Surescripts, and electronic ordering for lab tests, along with coding standards to ensure the different parties can exchange messages

  • Electronic health records, which have become widespread only during the past five to six years since the start of Meaningful Use payments from the US government

  • Devices capable of secure messaging

  • Public health information provided by a number of government and private institutions

  • Analytics offered by a huge number of firms to health care providers

Thus, the health care ecosystem has been evolving for some time to create the possibility for an advance like HealthTap. Much more is needed throughout the healthcare system for instant communications and smooth data exchange. For instance, HealthTap hasn’t yet integrated fitness devices into its ecosystem. But HealthTap has built a huge service on existing system elements, which many more institutions could do so if we had a health care system as open and rich as exists in e-commerce.

Is Full Healthcare Data Interoperability A Pipe Dream?

Posted on July 11, 2014 I Written By

John Lynn is the Founder of the blog network which currently consists of 10 blogs containing over 8000 articles with John having written over 4000 of the articles himself. These EMR and Healthcare IT related articles have been viewed over 16 million times. John also manages Healthcare IT Central and Healthcare IT Today, the leading career Health IT job board and blog. John is co-founder of and John is highly involved in social media, and in addition to his blogs can also be found on Twitter: @techguy and @ehrandhit and LinkedIn.

It’s always been very clear to me that healthcare interoperability is incredibly valuable. I still wish most organizations would just bite the bullet and make it a reality. Plus, I hope meaningful use stage 3 is blown up and would just work on interoperability. I think there are just so many potential benefits to healthcare in general for us not to do it.

However, I had a really interesting discussion with an EHR vendor today (Side Note: they questioned if interoperability was that valuable) and I asked him the question of whether full healthcare interoperability is even possible.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. As we discussed it more, it was clear that we could have full interoperability if the data was just exported to files (PDFs, images, etc), but that’s really just a glorified fax machine like we do today. Although it could potentially be a lot faster and better than fax. The problem is that the data is then stuck in these files and can’t be extracted into the receiving EHR vendor.

On the other end of the spectrum is full interoperability of every piece of EHR data being transferred to the receiving EHR. Is this even possible or is the data so complex that it’s never going to happen?

The closest we’ve come to this is probably prescriptions with something like SureScripts. You can pull down a patient’s prescription history and you can upload to it as well. A deeper dive into its challenges might be a great study to help us understand if full healthcare data interoeprability is possible. I’m sure many readers can share some insights.

I’m interested to hear people’s thoughts. Should we trim down our interoperability expectations to something more reasonable and achievable? We’ve started down that path with prescriptions and labs. Should we start with other areas like allergies, family history, diagnosis, etc as opposed to trying to do everything? My fear is that if our goal is full healthcare data interoperability, then we’re going to end up with no interoperability.

Use Of Surescripts E-Prescribing Up Dramatically

Posted on October 21, 2013 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare consultant and analyst with 20 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. Contact her at @ziegerhealth on Twitter or visit her site at Zieger Healthcare.

E-prescribing has become almost commonplace, if not universally used, among providers with EMRs during the last four years, a new study concludes. The study, which was published in The American Journal of Managed Care, was conducted by a team led by ONCHIT’s Meghan  H. Gabriel, PhD.

Researchers found that between 2008 and 2012, the total number of e-prescribers using Surescripts shot up from 7 percent (47,000 providers) to 54 percent (398,000), according to a report in EHR Intelligence.

As EHR Intelligence notes, these numbers didn’t just appear out of nowhere. Part of the reason e-prescribing has gained so much ground is that 94 percent of pharmacies are now able to accept e-prescriptions, up from 61 percent in December 2008.

It’s a good thing pharmacies are on board. E-prescribing must be in place  — specifically, certified EHR technology (CEHRT) — to meet one of the requirements of Stage 2 Meaningful Use. The requirement is that eligible providers need to transmit more than 50 percent of “all permissible prescriptions” via their CEHRT, EHR Intelligence points out, 10 percent higher than the Stage 1 requirement.

Side note: CMS seems happy with e-prescribing progress to date. According to the agency, more than 190 million electronic prescriptions had been sent by doctors, physician’s assistants and other healthcare  providers using EMRs. That 190 million is the cumulative total sent since the inception of the Meaningful Use program in 2011.

But from my way of looking at things, it isn’t completely kosher that e-prescribing by providers is barely over the half-way mark, despite representing considerable improvement over the years. While 54 percent is a nice round number, it still suggests that nearly half of providers are not equipped to achieve compliance with Meaningful Use Stage 2, an undesirable situation at best.

No, despite the improvement in e-prescribing uptake, to me the current stats actually look like a problem, not a win at this stage. The 46 percent of providers not online with e-prescribing had better get their act together.

A Report on ePrescribing Challenges

Posted on November 28, 2011 I Written By

Priya Ramachandran is a Maryland based freelance writer. In a former life, she wrote software code and managed Sarbanes Oxley related audits for IT departments. She now enjoys writing about healthcare, science and technology.

From the Center for Studying Health System Change ( comes a study on e-prescriptions, and how providers and pharmacies work together to electronically transmit and fulfill prescriptions. Now, I don’t know how reliable this organization or its research is (the .com in its name, for example, is something that bothers me. Also the report focuses almost exclusively on SureScripts). But the study is interesting to me for what it reveals statistically. conducted 114 phone interviews with 24 physician practices, 48 community pharmacies, divided between local and national companies. The national respondents included 3 mail-order pharmacies, and 3 chain pharmacy headquarters. Those of you who are interested in the numbers, the methodology and other sundries, go ahead and read the report in its entirety. Here’s a quick summary from the report’s results the rest of us. My comments are bolded.

According to the report:
Two-thirds of the practices sent at least 70% of their prescriptions electronically. Which means about 46.2% of the prescriptions are e-prescribed. Plenty of room for growth, methinks.

Pharmacists at more than 50% of Community said their pharmacies received less than 15% of their prescriptions electronically. The reasons: providers didn’t transmit electronically, or sent out computer-generated prescriptions by fax or mail. Interesting – could be indicative of either lack of knowhow, or infrastructure that allows for e-transmission.
New prescriptions are more likely to be e-prescribed than prescription refills (renewals). The report states that many pharmacies don’t use this feature in order to avoid SureScripts fees for renewals.

There are plenty of inefficiencies. E.g. a) multiple requests for the same prescription were sent (say by phone, fax and through SureScripts) by pharmacies b) providers mistakenly deny prescriptions and then re-send the same prescription as a new one.

E-prescribing to mail order pharmacies is a different process – (apparently providers need to be Surescripts certified to e-prescribe with community pharmacies, and also need to be certified to e-prescribe to mail order pharmacies. So, even when a provider selects a mail order pharmacy to fulfill an e-prescription, the prescription is delivered by fax to the the mail order pharmacy by Surescripts.)
Prescription specificity falls on the provider – tablets, capsules, and liquid formulations might have different costs. Pharmacists can’t change the prescription from a capsule to a tablet on their own, without consulting with the prescribing provider. This might result in unexpected costs.
Providers’ patient instructions are still incomprehensible! Pharmacists often have to play translator (maybe because as the report alludes to, the instructions are intended for pharmacist eyes, not the patient.)

an independent pharmacist explained, ‘A lot of times we can’t copy the directions word for word because the patient doesn’t understand them, just like with paper prescriptions. We have to go in and erase ‘t.i.d.’ and put in, ‘One tablet three times a day’.’


Subsidiary Modules in Certified EHR Products

Posted on June 2, 2011 I Written By

When Carl Bergman isn't rooting for the Washington Nationals or searching for a Steeler bar, he’s Managing Partner of the last dozen years, he’s concentrated on EHR consulting and writing. He spent the 80s and 90s as an itinerant project manager doing his small part for the dot com bubble. Prior to that, Bergman served a ten year stretch in the District of Columbia government as a policy and fiscal analyst, a role he recently repeated for a Council member.

Carl Bergman, from, sent me the following email which poses some interesting questions about various certified EHR vendors and the software that they depend on to be certified.

Many of the [certified EHR] products relied on several other software companies to function. Usually this was Dr. First’s Rocopia, Surescripts, etc. However, many others had required several subsidiary modules to work. For example, Pearl EMR lists: MS .NET Framework 3.5 Cryptographic Service Provider; SureScripts; BCA Lab Interface; Oracle TDE.

There is nothing inherently wrong with this, but it raises three questions. Does the vendor include the price, if any, for subsidiary software? More importantly, how well integrated are these programs integrated into the main program? Does the vendor take responsibility if the subsidiary software changes making them incompatible?

He definitely asks some interesting questions. I’d say that in most cases, there will be little issues with the dependent software. Any changes by the dependent software are going to have to be dealt with or in some cases replaced by the EMR vendor. That will just be part of the EMR upgrade process that the EMR vendor does for you.

The only exception might be things like the third party ePrescribing software. Depending on how this is integrated it could be an issue. In most cases, integration with the ePrescribing software can be very much like an interface with a PMS system or even a lab interface. If you’ve had the (begin sarcasm) fun (end sarcasm) of dealing with these types of interfaces you know how it can be problematic and often a pain to manage. I believe the interface with an ePrescribing module is less problematic, but it will exhibit similar issues depending on how the EMR software works with the ePrescribing.

Personally, I don’t have much problem with these types of integrations. As long as the EMR vendor is providing all of the software for you. The reason this is important is because if you get the EMR software from one vendor and the ePrescribing software from another vendor and then tell them to work together, you’re just asking for a lot of finger pointing. However, if your EMR software chooses to integrate a third party software to flesh out the certified EMR requirements and provides you all of the software, then you’re in a much better position. As they say, then you only have one neck to ring if something goes wrong. You don’t want to have to call both vendors and have each vendor point the finger at the other. That’s a position that no one enjoys.