E-Prescribing Vendors Talk Back

By Neil Versel, contributing editor

November 4, 2008 | A month ago, acting Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) administrator Kerry Weems said that physicians can no longer use cost as an excuse for not switching to electronic prescribing. “The business case is turned around,” Weems said citing the affordability of the technology and reasonably small workflow changes it requires.

If the vendor booths at the recent Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) annual meeting were any indication, the promise of 2 percent Medicare bonuses for e-prescribing has captured the attention of doctors and spurred all kinds of interest in health-IT.

“It’s created a sense of urgency that hasn’t been there before,” says Greg White, executive director of health care banking and payer solutions for RelayHealth, a McKesson subsidiary that offers e-prescribing software and services.

Doug Hart, RelayHealth’s senior director of marketing, says e-prescribing gives medical practices more of an advantage than before because it can produce a much faster return on investment than a full electronic medical record, something that is particularly important in this tough economy. Hart reports “lots of interest” in the company’s offering specifically because of the Medicare incentives, but also is seeing inquiries about secure messaging with patients, automation of referrals, appointment scheduling, and the population of personal health records through the RelayHealth user portal.

Starting Jan. 1, physicians can earn an extra 2 percent on top of regular Medicare Part B fees for “successful” e-prescribing. (CMS promises a definition of “successful” as well as detailed rules for the program by Nov. 15.) The bonus falls to 1 percent in 2011, then 0.5 percent in 2013. Meanwhile, those who have not made the switch by 2012 will be subject to penalties. (See “CMS Focuses on E-Prescribing.”)

Since Congress authorized the bonuses with the passage of the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act in mid-July, Allscripts-Misys Healthcare Solutions, the product of the recently completed merger of ambulatory systems vendors Allscripts Healthcare Solutions and Misys Healthcare Systems, has seen 15 percent monthly growth in the number of e-prescribing customers.

Even though Allscripts offers a free, standalone e-prescribing system through its National ePrescribing Patient Safety Initiative, the Chicago-based company had a lot of interest in complete EMRs from MGMA attendees who saw e-prescribing demos. “It leads to questions about what’s the pathway from e-prescribing to a full EMR,” says Allscripts president and chief operating officer Lee Shapiro.

Similarly, Sage Software Healthcare spokeswoman Lynne Durham says e-prescribing came up in the first 10 conversations she had at the meeting, though much of the interest was in e-prescribing as part of a broader EMR. Sage customers are writing more than 700,000 electronic prescriptions a month, and the majority are from users of the full EMR, Durham reports. “We haven’t seen a lot of rush for the standalone product,” she says.

Eclipsys, a hospital systems vendor that acquired ambulatory IT company MediNotes in October, has had a similar experience. “We’re seeing less interest in standalone e-prescribing than perhaps the buzz was six months ago,” says Thomas R. Cooke, Eclipsys senior vice president of business development.

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