More progress needed in health information technology

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT Since the turn of the 21st century, community pharmacy and its technology allies have waged a long fight to shift the nation’s fractious healthcare system to a common communications and record-keeping platform via electronic prescribing and information technology. Those efforts -- led by such companies as Surescripts, the pharmacy industry-founded e-prescribing network -- have made progress. But even now, nine years after Surescripts’ launch, roughly two out of every three office-based physicians are scribbling their patients’ prescriptions out on a pad instead of routing them to a pharmacy electronically.

(THE NEWS: White House report on health IT, innovation hailed by e-prescribing pioneer Surescripts. For the full story, click here)

Now that the Obama Administration has unveiled more details of its massive economic stimulus plan for the U.S. economy and, in particular, for the health care industry, the conversion rate among family doctors could accelerate quickly. It’s no surprise that Surescripts CEO Harry Totonis was jubilant at the release of the government’s new report on recovery and innovation.

On Tuesday, VP Joe Biden himself unveiled the report, called “The Recovery Act: Transforming the American Economy Through Innovation.” The report strongly endorses the effort to convert the physician community to paperless prescribing.

In clear recognition of the role e-prescribing can play in a more efficient health system, the White House included Totonis on its guest list at Biden’s release of the innovation stimulus report. The Surescripts CEO expressed strong support for the government’s efforts to drive the health information technology revolution.

By pushing incentives to doctors who convert to digital prescribing, along with federal-private industry pilot projects and clear standards for health IT, “the government has played a leading role in encouraging the adoption of e-prescribing,” Totonis said. The report, he added, “goes further to recognize the greater benefit of e-prescribing and the sharing of medication information [for] saving lives, time and money and improving the quality of care.” 

Despite the nation’s stubbornly high unemployment figures, rising deficits and fears of a double-dip recession, the White House maintains that the massive stimulus outlays will lead to long-term recovery. “With over $787 billion in funding, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is one of the single boldest and largest investments in the U.S. economy in the nation’s history,” the administration points out in its position statement. “The Recovery Act’s design was three-fold: to rescue a rapidly deteriorating economy; put the country on a path to recovery by putting Americans back to work quickly; and reinvest in the country’s long-term economic future, building a foundation for a new, more robust, and competitive American economy.”

More than $100 billion of those funds are allocated for “innovative and transformative programs,” the White House asserts, and could lead to “game-changing breakthroughs … and in some cases, new American industries.”

The $100 billion will spur “innovation and technology deployment” across a wide range of industries, according to the language of the Recovery Act, including renewable energy and energy efficiency, high-speed rail, broadband access and biofuels. But for pharmacies, physician groups and other health care stakeholders, one segment of that innovation stimulus is key: the $19 billion that will go toward health information technology.

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