HHS awards grants for e-prescribing tests

The Department of Health and Human Services awarded grants for four tests to study the effectiveness of standards for electronic prescribing systems, which are among the first applications needed to set the scene for a national electronic health network.

The tests will run until the end of the year, with final results expected by the end of January 2007 and a report to Congress due by April 2007. If the outcomes of the tests and other studies are favorable, e-prescribing standards could be finalized by 2008.

The grants, totaling nearly $6 million, went to Rand, Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, SureScripts and Achieve Healthcare Technologies, which is leading the first project to examine the effect of e-prescribing standards on long-term care.

All four organizations are collaborating with other companies and institutions on their separate projects.

"The pilots are not just about testing how standards promote interoperability but also if they improve safety [and] quality of care and if they can help drive down the cost of care," said Kevin Hutchinson, president and chief executive officer of SureScripts. "We believe [e-prescribing technology] can do all of these things."

SureScripts, one of the largest providers of e-prescribing services, received $2 million to evaluate how standards work in several practice settings and across a range of geographic areas and technologies. The company will also provide support for the Rand and Brigham and Women's Hospital tests.

E-prescribing can significantly reduce the cost of patient care by encouraging compliance with drug formularies, Hutchinson said.

Interoperable e-prescribing systems are the entry point for getting physicians and pharmacists involved in broader e-health activities, he said.

Many “pharmacies are already very much onboard with this and have already spent millions of dollars to upgrade their systems and get onto the network," Hutchinson said.

SureScripts already has about 150,000 physicians who are submitting prescriptions via fax and computer.

But that represents only about 28 percent of the physicians who could take advantage of e-prescribing. The rest want to see the results of the tests and what impact the standards will have before they commit, Hutchinson said.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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