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NACDS, NCPA seek stimulus funds to build health IT, e-Rx infrastructure


ALEXANDRIA, Va. Just how far will that stimulus money stretch? And is there enough to help hard-pressed retail pharmacies pay the fare to ride the health information technology express?

Those are the questions posed by the chain and independent pharmacy industries as the Obama Administration’s health reform gurus draw up detailed plans for shifting the nation’s health care system to health IT and electronic patient records.

As part of its massive stimulus plan to restore momentum to the U.S. economy, the White House has charged the Department of Health & Human Services with allocating $2 billion — money included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act [ARRA] — to spur the use of the new technology by the nation’s antiquated, patchwork health care system. And both the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and National Community Pharmacists Association want some of that stimulus money on behalf of their members.

In a lengthy and pointed letter, NACDS and NCPA are reminding HHS officials of the key role community pharmacies will play in the conversion to electronic prescribing and electronic patient records. As such, note organization representatives, they should be among the health stakeholders in line for some of the $2 billion in funding.

The letter is signed by Kevin Nicholson, VP government affairs for NACDS; and John Coster, SVP government affairs for NCPA.

“We believe that widespread adoption of electronic prescribing is the most critical prerequisite for the adoption of electronic health records,” the two told David Blumenthal, national coordinator of health information technology for HHS. “As the most consumer-accessible health care provider, pharmacy’s critical role should be recognized in the development of an interoperable healthcare delivery system.”

Pharmacies, added NACDS and NCPA, “should be considered a high priority for any grant funding that fosters adoption of HIT.”

In the stimulus bill signed by President Obama, Congress directed Blumenthal’s office to “invest in the infrastructure necessary to allow for and promote the electronic exchange and use of health information,” noted the pharmacy groups in their letter. And among the health care providers included in that infrastructure, added Nicholson and Coster, are pharmacies.

“The pharmacy profession has been on the leading edge of the adoption of health information technology (HIT) for many years. We have been actively involved in fostering the use of technology to improve the quality of patient care and developing standards to allow the growth of HIT in pharmacy practice,” they told Blumenthal. “However, much work remains to be accomplished, including upgrading and expanding pharmacies’ existing electronic health records to meet the requirements of ARRA, and establishing and enhancing pharmacy connectivity with other health care providers, including prescribers.

“Although the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act and ARRA…already provide prescribers with financial incentives for electronic prescribing, no grant funding exists for pharmacies to enhance their electronic systems to keep pace with prescribers,” NACDS and NCPA point out. “Consequently, we believe that ONC should consider grant funding for pharmacies to enhance their electronic prescription functionality, which would allow pharmacies to upgrade their systems toward interoperable health records.”

The letter’s authors appealed to Blumenthal to give “priority consideration” to funding for “small independent and chain pharmacies that may not have had the resources to connect to the e-prescribing platforms, and may not have the upgrades in technology necessary to connect to various interoperable electronic health record systems.”

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