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Tread cautiously on health technology, pharmacy, PBM groups urge Congress


WASHINGTON The retail pharmacy community again is expressing alarm over new health information technology proposals in Congress that industry leaders fear would stymie the ability of community pharmacists to do their jobs and assure quality care for patients.

Congressional leaders serving on the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, also known as the HELP Committee, are now debating legislation to spur the rapid adoption of health information technology, including electronic transmission and storage of patient medical records and electronic prescribing. Pharmacy operators strongly support the healthcare system’s conversion to electronic recordkeeping and paperless prescribing, but oppose measures that they fear would jeopardize pharmacy operations and patient relationships.

The Senate panel held a hearing this morning on how investing in HIT as part of efforts to recharge the severely wounded economy could promote better public health. In response, the National Association of Chain Drug Stores asked committee members on Thursday to tread carefully on HIT legislation.

In written testimony, NACDS aired the misgivings of its members. “We continue to have concerns that HIT legislation would include unworkable new provisions in the name of privacy that would impede the objectives of economic stimulus through HIT adoption,” the group told Senate HELP committee members. “Our primary concern is to assure that any legislation considered does not interfere with pharmacies’ ability to provide the communications necessary to ensure high-quality patient care, while assuring adequate protections for protected health information.”

NACDS reminded lawmakers that “chain pharmacy has been on the leading edge of the adoption of HIT for many years,” and reiterated pharmacy’s support for e-prescribing. “Chain pharmacy wholeheartedly supports the use of health information technology and efforts to spur its adoption across the healthcare community,” noted the group.

What’s more, retail pharmacy has been a long-time proponent of protecting patient privacy, NACDS testified. “Pharmacists are highly trusted health professionals, and take a back seat to no one when it comes to securing and protecting patient privacy,” the group told HELP Committee members. “But forcing us to adopt costly and administratively burdensome privacy requirements will hurt our ability to serve patients in a timely and effective manner.”

The first order of business in the push for an electronically enabled healthcare system, NACDS urged panel members, should be the universal adoption of e-prescribing. However, those efforts have been hampered by “the current Drug Enforcement Administration prohibition on electronic prescribing of controlled substances, which comprise approximately 15% to 20% of all prescriptions.” The group urged Congress to overturn DEA restrictions in its drive to promote HIT.

Also urging restraint is the pharmacy benefit management industry. In its own testimony on Thursday, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association suggested that lawmakers assure that any bill to promote electronic medical records provides incentives for the adoption of e-prescribing, and that health information technology meets minimum performance and integration standards.

“HIT legislation presents an opportunity for huge success, if policymakers ensure that all electronic medical records include basic safety tools like e-prescribing, which improves efficiency, affordability and access,” said PCMA president and CEO Mark Merritt. “However, spending billions on new HIT systems that don’t include e-prescribing, are not interoperable with other EMR technologies or contain unworkable privacy provisions would be more than just a waste of money – it would waste a historic opportunity to improve chronic care and prevent countless medical errors and hospitalizations.”

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