Five pharmacies are pilot testing paperless patient inserts in a system developed by Thomson Healthcare and Health Information Designs as rival Etreby Computer Co. gears up it's web-based e-solution.
The day when pharmacists may have the very latest drug labeling information literally at their fingertips is coming closer in head-to-head competition between two finalists vying to be the sole provider of electronic labeling.
Paperless labeling is an initiative of the Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), whose members spend an estimated $300 million annually producing and distributing paper package inserts (PI). The competition to create the e-labeling system has come down to two entriesa partnership between Thomson Healthcare and Health Information Designs, and Etreby Computer Co.
Each company is testing its system in five pharmacies in metro Washington, D.C. The results of the alpha test using 200 PIs selected by PhRMA will be available in mid-November. The competitors will begin beta testing early next year.
Thomson Healthcare and HID opted to load the PI database on the hard drive of a small touch-screen appliance that sits on the pharmacy counter or can be wall mounted, according to Mukesh Mehta, v.p.-Thomson Medical Economics, Montvale, N.J. While drug names can be typed in or picked from a menu, the system includes a bar-code scanner for reading NDC numbers. Various sections of the PI can be quickly navigated by bookmarks. The system requires an electrical outlet and an analog phone line, which can be shared with a fax machine.
"Our system is live all the time, because it's self-contained on the hard drive," said Mehta. "Updates take five to seven minutes and are done late at night. In the morning, the update flashes and the pharmacist clicks on it to see the changes, including drug recalls and withdrawals. In this risk management scenario, you have the most current information at the point of dispensing. We're getting extremely positive feedback from the test pharmacists and the pharmaceutical industry."
Etreby Computer Co. is using the Internet to deliver paperless labeling. The Anaheim, Calif., technology firm's approach requires an Internet connection. To access a PI, the user logs onto the Web site and enters a password, then searches by typing in a brand or generic name, NDC number, or manufacturer. Pharmacies with scanners can also use bar codes to search for PIs. And clicking a button brings up the last 10 PI changes. Each monograph includes a menu for clickable access to specific sections of the PI.
"Our approach utilizes the tools and technology pharmacies are currently using, and that's the computer sitting right there in front of them," said Pete Aucoin, R.Ph., Etreby president. "If a change is made, within the hour every pharmacy has access to it. For pharmacists, the good thing is you don't have to have another machine. Within a very short time everybody will be using the Internet to transmit claims because it's cheaper, so having an Internet-based system is not a drawback."
Regardless of which company comes out on top, paperless labeling must still win the blessing of the Food & Drug Administration and of the pharmacists who would be asked to use it.
Carol Ukens. Paperless Rx labels moving ahead.