Hutchinson to Step Down as SureScripts Top Exec

Digital HealthCare & Productivity | With adoption of electronic prescribing rising steadily and perhaps ready to explode into the mainstream of healthcare in the next year, according to e-prescribing connectivity network SureScripts (Alexandria, Va.), the organization’s president and chief executive Kevin Hutchinson says the time seems right for him to move on.

“SureScripts is a huge success,” says Hutchinson. The organization, founded in 2001 by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association, says that more than 95 percent of all U.S. pharmacies and all major physician IT vendors now are certified on the SureScripts Pharmacy Health Information Exchange.

Earlier this month, SureScripts issued its “National Progress Report on E-Prescribing,” in which it says it will process 35 million electronic prescriptions this year—up from 13 million in 2006 and just 700,000 in 2004—and forecasts that number to soar to 100 million next year.

Even though the 2008 prediction represents just 7 percent of all eligible new prescriptions and refills, according to SureScripts, Hutchinson says, “It just seemed like time.” The SureScripts boss announced last week that he would leave the company at the end of January. Chief operating officer Rick Ratliff will take over as acting CEO. It is up to the board to decide whether to offer Ratliff the job permanently.

“There are so many other things in HIT,” says Hutchinson, who previously held executive positions at former health-IT vendor MedicaLogic/Medscape and as health-IT manager for hospital purchasing cooperative VHA.

“The efforts of Kevin and his team have laid the foundation for e-prescribing and health information exchange between physicians and pharmacists and have created an unprecedented opportunity to leave the inefficiencies and safety challenges of paper-based prescribing behind,” John Glaser, chief information officer of Partners HealthCare System (Boston) and SureScripts board member, says in a written statement.

Hutchinson remains a member of the American Health Information Community (AHIC), a public-private advisory board to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), holding a seat designated for ancillary service providers. “I will serve at the secretary’s request,” Hutchinson says.

On Dec. 4, Hutchinson testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, seeking to legalize e-prescribing for controlled substances. “We need to address that issue, which will really impact utilization,” Ratliff tells Digital HealthCare & Productivity. Last week, 19 senators, led by Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), sent a letter to Atty. Gen. Michael Mukasey, asking him to push forward the Drug Enforcement Administration’s review of current regulations.

“DEA regulations permitting [e-prescribing of controlled substances] have been delayed for years, inhibiting wider uptake of e-prescribing, and postponing the realization of this technology’s benefits,” the letter says.

In addition to pushing for that change, SureScripts will seek to increase consumer awareness of e-prescribing in 2008. Ratliff says to expect signage in pharmacies highlighting that they are on the SureScripts network and thus accept electronic scripts, similar to the T-Mobile HotSpot identifiers found at so many Starbucks locations.

The emphasis will be on consumer convenience rather than safety, according to Ratliff. For healthcare professionals, the emphasis will be on workflow. “We run into situations where physicians write scripts and hand off to staff to enter the information,” Ratliff says.

That is not true e-prescribing, nor is sending electronic faxes. “The same process happens on the pharmacy side,” he adds. Also next year, SureScripts will begin working with pharmacies on promoting electronic interoperability between the growing number of in-store clinics and primary care practices, with the Continuity of Care Record as the primary vehicle for data exchange, Ratliff says.

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