Steal this column

Why not? I did. I stole every idea from Health and Human Services secretary Mike Leavitt, CMS acting administrator Kerry Weems, Rhode Island Gov. Donald Carcieri and a few others earlier this month in Boston at the National E-prescribing Conference, hosted by CMS and some 34 other co-sponsors, including NACDS and NCPA. The two-day event focused on the potential electronic prescribing has to help fix so much of what is wrong with health care in America today.

I routinely take shots at politicos and policy wonks who I believe just don’t get it as it relates to the issues that matter to community pharmacy. So, it was refreshing to hear some of our country’s leaders talk about what e-prescribing could do to transform health care from the highly fragmented, robust and rapidly growing sector of the nation’s economy, as Leavitt noted during his opening comments, to a system where key stakeholders actually communicate.

Detractors have pointed to the privacy issue. That’s kind of silly, as Leavitt, and Carcieri before him, pointed out—granted, I am paraphrasing a bit here because that’s what it sounded like to me. The privacy issues around e-health are, in a word—one Carcieri actually used—solvable.

How can he be so sure? Every day billions of people use ATM cards in machines all over the world that are not part of the banks that hold their money, with a reasonable expectation that no one else will see their banking records.

While the overarching purpose of the event was no doubt to promote physician adoption of e-prescribing software, sometime during the course of the event it occurred to me that the real opportunity to drive e-prescribing is to get the consumer on board.

The reality, as Paul Cotton, a senior lobbyist for AARP, explained, is that “when consumers start to learn about it, they want it.” According to a recent survey of AARP members, 9-out-of-10 older Americans want e-prescribing to enable their doctors to:

Check their medication history;

Determine insurance coverage; and

Send prescriptions directly to the pharmacy.

But it’s more than just telling consumers the positive story about what e-prescribing means for them; I believe Americans need to understand the negative implications of not moving forward with widespread physician adoption as soon as possible and what it means as an important first step to the creation of a national healthcare information technology infrastructure—and what it means for America to continue to limp along without one.

Because as it stands right now, their personal health records and medical histories are captured in countless manila folders in the filing cabinets of every physician that has ever treated them. And guess what? They can’t talk to each other, and, as a result, each one is an incomplete record. Carcieri believes he has 30 or more manila folders of his own stored in doctors’ offices across Rhode Island.

That means if you got hit by a bus tomorrow, it is likely the ER would know nothing about you by the time you got there. “Meanwhile, FedEx can tell you where a package will be anywhere in the world three hours from now,” Carcieri said.

Tell that story to as many consumers as you can and see what happens with e-prescribing over the next few years. You can steal this column if you need to.