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    Health information technology in the community pharmacy

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    Software programs that receive prescriptions and aid in dispensing medications are already in wide use in community pharmacies. These programs help manage inventory, workflow, accounts, and assist in record keeping. But the next wave of pharmacy technology and software is coming—programs that will allow community pharmacies to communicate with local physicians and hospitals in health information exchange (HIE) and give them access to local or regional electronic health records (EHR).  

    Such systems will help pharmacies to meet criteria established by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which is pushing for optimization and meaningful use of EHRs. Criteria for Stage 3 of CMS’s meaningful use of HER, which include regional integration of health records, must be met by 2018. In addition, Medicare’s Star Ratings, which rate health plans, are making insurance companies put pressure on pharmacies to increase their performance in quality measurements—the kind of measurements that can be helped by EHR/HIE technology.

    Interoperability and bidirectionality

    Do community pharmacies currently have systems that can make meaningful secure exchange of health information as seamless as possible, and that allow for communications with all healthcare practitioners in a given region? Not as yet, said Shelly Spiro, RPh, FASCP, executive director of the Pharmacy Health Information Technology Collaborative in Alexandria, VA. The focus of the Pharmacy HIT Collaborative is to assure meaningful use of standardized EHRs to support safe and effective medication use and care, and to provide access to the services of pharmacists with other members of a patient’s care team.

    Few pharmacies have systems that are interoperable, meaning they can work with other systems, or bidirectional, meaning that the secure exchange of information goes to and from the pharmacy, she said.

    The collaborative, formed in 2010 by nine pharmacy professional associations, works to help guide how the pharmacist fits into the national health information infrastructure. “The collaborative focuses more on the clinical aspects of what pharmacists do,” she said. Systems that automate dispensing help pharmacists deal with counseling a patient on one prescription. Those that allow for exchange of health information bring in more information that allows pharmacists to improve their clinical services—especially medication therapy management (MTM).

    Pharmacy systems need to be interoperable; they need to be able to share the pharmacy’s clinical information about a patient with other healthcare providers, such as physicians and hospitals, said Spiro. Information needs to move as seamlessly as possible, without the need for manual entry of data from one system into another. A system has to have the functionality to allow the pharmacist to access and easily use information about a patient for actions in addition to dispensing medications, and to be able to share pharmacy information as well, she said.

    Valerie DeBenedette
    Valerie DeBenedette is a medical news writer in Putnam County, N.Y.

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