Viewpoint: Free to a good home-e-technology

September 18, 2006

How would you like to receive free e-prescribing software? Or maybe a state-of-the-art medical records software package, complete with Internet connectivity and help desk support? Well, get ready, because some gifts may be coming your way! On Aug. 8, the Department of Health & Human Services, through its CMS and Office of Inspector General, published parallel final rules allowing certain healthcare groups to donate e-prescribing and electronic health record (EHR) technology to physicians, pharmacies, and others. And, better yet, the final rules are broader and more practical than those proposed back in October 2005.

Heralding the rules, HHS secretary Michael Leavitt proclaimed, "Electronic health records help doctors provide higher quality patient care and improve efficiency. By removing barriers, these regulations will help physicians get these systems in place and working for patients faster." HHS believes that e-prescribing will improve patient safety by decreasing errors, automating the process of checking for drug interactions and allergies, and eliminating duplicative laboratory and diagnostic tests. E-prescribing also enables physicians and pharmacies to obtain information from health plans about formularies, eligibility, and medication history.

E-records, when interoperable among healthcare providers, offer benefits similar to those of e-prescribing in terms of reducing medical errors and duplicative tests, and improving efficiency. EHRs will allow information to be more portable, moving with consumers from one point of care to another. In addition, HHS believes that the implementation of interoperable e-records is critical in achieving secure and seamless information exchange and improving our healthcare system, which has been a stated goal of Leavitt and President Bush.

Under the e-prescribing safe harbor, pharmacies can receive "free" hardware, software, and IT and training from eligible Part D plan sponsors and Medicare Advantage organizations. However, there is a limit to what you can receive: the hardware, software, and IT and training services may be only those necessary and used solely to receive e-prescribing information. In addition, several other requirements exist, including: