Drug chains and benefits managers team on e-prescriptions

1/07/2008 - 15:47

By Kim Dixon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Chain drug stores including Walgreens and pharmacy benefits managers like Medco Health Solutions are combining their electronic networks to speed adoption of computerized prescriptions.

The nation's three biggest pharmacy benefit managers, Medco, Express Scripts and CVS Caremark , are combining data networks with chain drugstores and community pharmacists. Together they will transmit the 100 million electronic prescriptions expected to be written this year, the group said on Tuesday.

That is just a fraction of the 4.4 billion retail and mail order prescriptions written in 2007 in the United States. But backers say it is a step forward.

"In order to get widespread adoption, we have to get the systems in place that work well," said Rick Ratliff, who will be a co-manager of the combined entity to be known as SureScripts-RxHub.

Retail chains like Walgreens and Rite Aid Corp. are well known. Companies like Medco, Express Scripts and CVS, through its merger with Caremark, contract with employers to buy prescriptions in bulk for employee health plans.

Just 4 percent of physicians have fully adopted computerized health records, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June.

Physicians in the United States have been slow to adopt electronic prescribing tools, in part because of the upfront investment required.

The combined operation will most immediately help the small specialty software vendors which sell systems to doctors, according to the group.

Legislation with broad Democratic and Republican backing is moving through Congress that would boost financial incentives for doctors participating in the Medicare health insurance program to use e-prescribing technologies.

That could provide another catalyst for adoption.

(Editing by Dave Zimmerman)

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