Vermont moving toward electronic prescriptions

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Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, secured the money from the Health Resources and Services Administration.

The funds will be used to provide electronic technology and technical assistance to physicians and also for financial incentives to Vermont independent retail pharmacies to join the electronic network.

Leahy said Vermont Information Technology Leaders, Inc., will work with doctors and pharmacists to introduce the emerging technology.

"With this grant, VITL will be able to help physicians across Vermont begin the transition from paper to electronic records," Leahy said at a Friday morning press conference in Montpelier. "We expect that once physicians see how easy it is to use electronic prescribing, they'll want to take additional steps toward a full electronic medical record."

Beginning in 2011, Vermont physicians can qualify for between $44,000 and $64,000 in payments for adapting the electronic record system.

Vermont is already a leader in the use of electronic records.

In June, Vermont was recognized by Surescripts as the most improved state for electronic prescribing.

Brattleboro physician and President of the Vermont Medical Society, Dr. Robert Tortolani, said the grant money will help physicians around the state who have been unable to transfer over to the electronic system.

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"The Medical Society definitely supports the development of electronic health records and the support of smaller practices which cannot afford to implement them on their own.

"This will help the practices that really want to use them but have not been able to do so on their own."

Frank Fratea, a staff pharmacist at Hotel Pharmacy, said the number of electronic prescriptions coming into the Elliot Street store increases every year.

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Fratea said the traditional hand-written prescription is still the most popular form, but more and more doctors are moving over to the electronic method. "It is the wave of the future," he said. "Electronic prescriptions are becoming more and more prevalent."

According to Fratea there are still bugs in the system.

If a doctor sends a prescription that includes the patient's middle initial, but that middle initial is not in the pharmacy's data base, then the information will not match up.

Fratea said a family pharmacy like Hotel Pharmacy can still make the match, but the extra work, in the end, does not amount to saving time.

And he said if the medicine is not coded the exact same way between the electronic system ad the pharmacy it can cause problems as well.

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"There are still issues to work out," Fratea said. "It doesn't yet work to the full extent of the power it has. It can be frustrating. The system need some tweaking."

Vermont Medical Society Executive Vice President Paul Harrington said doctors and pharmacies are still working through some of the limitations of the system and said the federal money will go a long way toward helping Vermont move toward a more reliable electronic system.

"Electronic prescriptions are certainly in a period of transition and it will few years before there is a master index that prevents all these problems," Harrington said. "We appreciate that Sen. Leahy has been able to secure this grant and it will go a long way to help Vermont keep the momentum moving forward."

Doctors already receive a 2 percent bonus from Medicare for using electronic prescriptions and by 2012 Medicare will begin penalizing doctors who are not prescribing electronically.

The Leahy grant is a way of protecting the state's physicians from the payment reductions.

"It is VITL's goal to help as many Vermont physicians as possible qualify for the Medicare bonus payment," VITL President and CEO Dr. David Cochran said in a press release. "Electronic prescribing improves patient care, as prescribers have instant access to the patient's medication history and allergy list no matter where they are."

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.

Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at hwtisman@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 279.


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