The merger of SureScripts and RxHub creates the largest electronic drug-information network in the U.S., but it doesn't portend a great leap in the adoption of electronic health-record systems, industry analysts say.
The two companies announced earlier this week that they closed on an equal partnership deal to combine all elements of an electronic-prescribing network. The combined company provides a seamless flow of drug information from the point of care to a patient's pharmacy, according to the acting chief executive officers of SureScripts and RxHub.
"We're bringing together two halves of the same whole," said J.P. Little, RxHub's acting CEO.
Not only that, but the network will dominate the market, said Wes Rishel, vice president and analyst for Gartner, which conducts research and analysis in technology trends. "The merger will certainly create the largest network for this purpose," he said. "It will simplify and reduce the expense for electronic medical-record vendors for providing e-prescribing for physicians."
St. Paul, Minn.-based RxHub was founded by CVS Caremark Corp., Express Scripts and Medco Health Solutions to deliver drug-benefit information to providers at the point of care. Alexandria, Va.-based SureScripts was established by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association to transmit e-prescriptions from doctors to pharmacies.
Together, the network represents about 70% of all community pharmacies and 30% of independent pharmacies in the country, said Rick Ratliff, acting CEO of SureScripts. He estimated the new drug-data network will handle 100 million e-prescription transactions and will respond to 70 million physician requests for patients' drug benefits and medication history information by the end of the year.
That still only corresponds to fewer than 10% of all prescriptions written in this country, and the new company will concentrate on adding more patients, providers, insurers and pharmacies to boost that number, Ratliff said. "The intent here is to ensure that we're continuing to drive value in the market."
The collaborative effort is the next step toward moving the healthcare industry to a paperless system, the executives said. E-prescribing is a hot topic at the federal level, where officials would like to see a national health information network that allows for a smooth flow of medical information across the country. The Justice Department's Drug Enforcement Administration took another step in that direction last week by proposing legislation to allow providers to electronically prescribe controlled substances.
While the merger continues to build e-prescribing infrastructure in the U.S., it's important to realize that that step alone doesn't "transcend where e-prescribing is today," said Matthew Guldin, senior research analyst for consultancy Frost & Sullivan. Providers still face high barriers to entry. "It is still expensive" for providers to buy electronic systems, he said.
The merger will help patients and providers more effectively manage drug issues, such as safety and medication history, but installing and using electronic equipment is not occurring at a high rate among physician offices, Guldin said.
Security remains an issue for such a large amount of data concentrated in one network. The merger has created a "gold mine" for companies that want data with weak individual control over who is allowed to use that information, said Twila Brase, president of the Citizens' Council on Health Care, a privacy advocacy group based in St. Paul, Minn. In addition, the centralized network could allow organizations to track physicians' prescription practices and patients' medication use. "I think that is enormously intrusive," she said.
RxHub's Little said security practices of the network are modeled after banking industry standards, and the network will use privacy assessments from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 to protect patients' medical history information. "It's something we take very seriously," he said.
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