Portal to a Golden Age

April 1, 2007

Today, at most, 20 percent of physicians are using e-Prescribing in their practices. The potential positive impact of e-Prescribing on patient care in the healthcare industry has been understood for almost a decade, but is only just now beginning to catch on. In a world where most processes have become automated, why has it taken so long for this shift in the healthcare marketplace to occur?

Today, at most, 20 percent of physicians are using e-Prescribing in their practices. The potential positive impact of e-Prescribing on patient care in the healthcare industry has been understood for almost a decade, but is only just now beginning to catch on. In a world where most processes have become automated, why has it taken so long for this shift in the healthcare marketplace to occur?

Over the past ten years, physicians have pushed back on e-Prescribing, citing the need for more reliable, dependable and secure solutions that are also fast and easy to use and do not impede their workflow. Furthermore, doctors demanded that e-Prescribing be affordable, if not completely free. Today, a small number of companies are offering robust, reliable, secure, high speed solutions, which are easy to deploy with little training and minimal impact on practice workflow. And, in the interest of patient safety and to lower the cost of prescriptions given, a few leading healthcare payers are starting to pay for the hardware and set-up costs for these mature e-prescribing solutions on behalf of the doctor, which of course addresses the affordability issue. As a result, where healthcare payers are willing to “sponsor” the technology, physician adoption is high. The results in these leading edge programs are impressive in terms of patient safety and a reduction in prescription drug spending, further raising interest in e-Prescribing within the nation’s healthcare payers. However, the question remains why aren’t more payers sponsoring this life-saving technology to promote the widespread adoption of e-Prescribing?

Since the recent announcement made by the National E-Prescribing Patient Safety Initiative (NEPSI) that put in place a program to offer free e-Prescribing to all physicians across the U.S., awareness of the importance of adopting e-Prescribing has increased. The need to improve patient safety has created an inherent shift in physician attitude toward e-Prescribing, on top of a growing acceptance of new technologies in general.

Adopting New TechnologyToday, 80 percent of physicians practice in smaller offices, and more often than not, the e-Prescribing platform is the launching pad into digitizing the office. The e-Prescribing device becomes a portal to delivering critical, real-time information at the point-of-care during the “golden 10 minutes,” when a patient is speaking to the doctor during an office visit.

As e-Prescribing becomes the standard-of-care, it will be important to maintain a high standard for security, as well as the proper configuration to allow ease-of-use. The electronic infrastructure now in place encourages widespread adoption of e-Prescribing. Therefore, secure connectivity to real-time information at the point-of-care is critical. Physicians, through their e-Prescribing vendors, must prepare to meet the need to secure their patients’ information.

There are a variety of incentive programs in place that encourage and reward quality in healthcare, and promote greater use of pay-for-performance plans and healthcare information technology. Future e-Prescribing tools will provide enhanced levels of quality patient and payer data to measure the effectiveness of existing programs. Payers will be able to quantify the savings, enabling the development of a transaction fee, which will share some of those savings with the technology providers.

Working Together
As with most initiatives, government will be an active part of the evolution of e-Prescribing. It appears the Federal Government has taken its cue from similar initiatives implemented at the state and local levels within the past six months. The fact that more than 22 states have introduced e-Prescribing-friendly legislation is impressive and has even served as a catalyst for the Federal Government to take notice.

Over the years, many proposals tried to mandate e-Prescribing. However, the funding structure was always an issue. If legislators get behind e-Prescribing, they may push for more creative funding models that work for everyone.

What’s next? Most immediately, those involved in conducting the standards pilot dictated in the Medicare Modernization Act will be commissioned to report their findings to Congress, and the increased spotlight on e-Prescribing may accelerate the adoption of final regulatory standards. We also can expect to see the proliferation of new government grants to promote the continued research and adoption of e-Prescribing. For example, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently announced a new round of grants.

Collectively, these government-generated and private sector e-Prescribing initiatives will eventually affect the healthcare industry in its entirety. Results are already being seen. The growth rate in patient healthcare spending, including prescription drug spending, has slowed recently and e-Prescribing will continue to reinforce this trend.

Patient-driven Change
Delivering real-time information at the point-of-care, including co-pay payment information, will support the growing trend of consumer-driven healthcare, where patients take a greater role and responsibility in their healthcare decisions. By addressing preventable and sometimes fatal errors, as were identified in the recent IOM study, e-Prescribing will improve safety for patients who are prescribed medications and ease the burden on the healthcare system.

This is a very exciting time in the industry for e-Prescribing vendors, physicians and patients. It is obvious that patients will begin to drive the future direction of the healthcare industry by taking control of and responsibility for their own care. With the support of the government and private sector, this patient-driven movement will accelerate as e-Prescribing becomes the standard-of-care and the launching pad for the further adoption of much-needed information technology in the healthcare industry.

Rick Spurr is CEO of ZixCorp, Dallas. Contact him at [email protected].

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