Community Pharmacists Plunge Headfirst Into Health IT

August 01, 2009

Bruce T. Roberts, RPh, Executive Vice President and CEO,
National Community Pharmacists Association 

"If everyone is moving forward, then success takes care of itself," said industrialist Henry Ford. Those words of wisdom still ring true. In the case of meaningful health care reform everyone must be on the same page to improve the system. The federal government is committed to this goal and the American people demand it. Pharmacists must help lead the way, especially in creating greater efficiencies in the delivery of health care. 

NCPA has demonstrated its dedication to that objective by launching the e-prescribing company Surescripts and the medication management therapy software company Mirixa this decade. In fact, pharmacy has been one of the most electronically connected health care professions for years. For example, many pharmacy owners are using robotic filling equipment. The newest phrase to describe these various advances is Health Information Technology (HIT), and the newest breakthrough for pharmacists to embrace is Electronic Health Records (EHR). 

Why is that the case? Look no further than the federal economic stimulus packaged from February. It contained significant investments to accelerate the adoption of EHRs and a commitment to develop a national, interoperable health care system by 2014. Pharmacists, doctors, health plans, vendors and other providers must unite to ensure the implementation process is smooth and the technology is as user-friendly and secure as possible. Patient care will improve if health providers can access or input information into updated EHRs. The upfront costs for employing this system will pale in comparison to the backend savings that result from better health outcomes. 

NCPA is seizing on this opportunity. We hosted a conference called "Connecting Community Pharmacy to the Interoperable Health Information Technology Highway" on June 10 - 11 in Alexandria, VA. It focused on ensuring pharmacies are working collaboratively with their partners to be part of any EHR solution and take advantage of incentive programs, such as the $2 billion in stimulus funding dedicated to moving the technological advancement process forward. While none of the funding is specifically earmarked for pharmacy, there are ways to be involved, such as though the growing number of state and regional exchange networks that have been recently established. The conference's keynote speaker was Dr. Mark McClellan of the Brookings Institution, and formerly the Administrator for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. There were also other industry-leading speakers, panel discussions and breakout sessions as every aspect of EHRs was explored. 

Prior to the conference, NCPA commissioned the writing of "Health Information Technology and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009: A Roadmap for Community Pharmacy". It summarizes HIT infrastructure and opportunities, as well as changes to the way Protected Health Information (PHI) can be stored and shared in an electronic environment. As a result of the conference an updated version of the document was released in July. 

One legal aspect of EHRs that presents a formidable challenge for pharmacists is protecting patient confidentiality. The universe of who can view or even add entries to patients' medical files will soon grow exponentially. Obviously, without proper safeguards, the potential for HIPPA violation grows. It's more than simply following the policies, procedures and manuals associated with HIPAA. Now you have worry about everyone in the EHR information chain of custody. We are formulating a plan to help NCPA members avoid potential landmines. 

In addition, NCPA submitted comments to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology in response to their proposed definition of "meaningful use". They are creating an incentive based system to ensure doctors are adopting EHRs. We suggested that measurable data such as medication management services should be part of criteria for making those judgments. In other words, NCPA is working to ensure pharmacy services that can help achieve better health outcomes are used in ascertaining the value of EHRs. 

Hopefully, five years from now NCPA, its allies and business partners can look back with a measure of pride in their proactive and collaborative approach in adopting EHRs into their daily business models. As a result, the clinical expertise of pharmacists will be on greater display. That's a recipe for healthier patients. In summary, Henry Ford has more advice that is applicable to how we should approach this EHR venture."Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success."

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