E-Prescription Groups Merge Networks

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Two large electronic prescribing networks, one operated by retail pharmacists and the second by pharmacy benefit groups, have merged in an effort to push forward the use of e-prescriptions in the U.S., the networks announced Tuesday.

Combining resources are RxHub, operated by the nation's largest pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and SureScripts, formed by two pharmacist trade groups. Both networks were founded in 2001 and focused on separate parts of the e-prescribing process.

RxHub, founded by CVS Caremark, Express Scripts and Medco Health Solutions, focused on delivering drug benefit information to doctors, while SureScripts, formed by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association, worked on routing e-prescriptions from doctor's offices to pharmacies.

"The key here is that these two industries have come together and put aside historical differences to collaborate and launch a new network," said Rick Ratliff, acting CEO of SureScripts. The merger is "an effort to help move the industry toward the paperless prescription process."

One of the major benefits of the combined network will be for vendors of e-prescription products, who will be able to target their products to a standardized network, said J.P. Little, acting CEO of RxHub.

"This has been a pretty rapidly evolving space from a standards perspective," Little said. "We've asked [vendors] to do a lot. We've asked the vendors to move quickly through a lot of iterations of the standards, and they had a lot of work to deal with our two organizations."

The new network should also help improve prescription accuracy, give doctors more information about their patients and improve convenience for doctors and patients, the new company said.

SureScripts had 70 percent of the nation's pharmacies signed up to use its network as of December, with many of the remaining pharmacies being independent operators in rural areas, Ratliff said. RxHub's members represent about 200 million U.S. residents, or about two-thirds of the nation's population, Little said.

The new network, to be called SureScripts-RxHub at first, will be a merger of equals, Ratliff said. The owners of each network will have 50 percent ownership in the new company. Ratliff and Little will jointly manage the new network while the merged company looks for a new CEO, the company said.

In addition to the merger, several other recent events have opened the door for e-prescribing.

In March, several doctors organizations launched a nationwide program and Web site, GetRxConnected.com to help doctors sign up for e-prescribing.

On Friday, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration proposed regulations that would allow doctors to issue electronic prescriptions for the class of medications that are controlled substances. The agency is now seeking public comment on the proposed regulations.

A bill pending in the U.S. Senate would provide doctors monetary incentives for doctors to move to electronic prescribing. The House of Representatives passed the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act on June 24, but Republicans in the Senate held up the bill before taking a one-week vacation for Independence Day, which is Friday.

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