WASHINGTON - The drugstore and pharmacy-benefit management industries will disclose today a combination of their information systems in order to boost electronic prescribing by physicians.
The merger combines the RxHub network, operated by CVS Caremark Corp., Express Scripts Inc., and MedcoHealth Solutions Inc., with Surescripts, which is run by the drugstore industry's two main trade groups.
Executives for the industries said the transaction, which closed yesterday, will make electronic prescribing more convenient and efficient for physicians.
"This merger sets aside historic economic and political differences to do what is necessary to advance paperless prescribing and the secure exchange of critical information," said John Driscoll, president for new markets with MedcoHealth Solutions.
The effort comes as both Washington politicians and the corporate executives ramp up efforts to encourage electronic prescribing, which takes the place of handwritten notes. The technology has been hailed as a way to avoid medication errors and reduce healthcare costs, but has not been embraced by many doctors.
Younger doctors, who shop and socialize online, already use the technology in medical school. But older physicians have yet to embrace it, arguing that the upfront costs of going paperless fall on their shoulders, while the immediate savings go to pharmacy-benefit managers paid to keep prescription costs low.
Only about 2 percent of all medicines dispensed last year were prescribed electronically, according to Surescripts.
RxHub and Surescripts were founded separately in 2001. RxHub stores data on more than 200 million insured patients and provides physicians with information on which medicines are covered by patients' insurance. Surescripts is an electronic exchange that lets doctors see patients' medication histories and send prescriptions to pharmacies.
The new company is a novel combination since pharmacy-benefit managers and retail pharmacies have traditionally been rivals, said Dr. John Halamka, chief information officer at Harvard Medical School. While pharmacy-benefit managers often encourage patients to order prescriptions by mail, retailers do their business by dispensing medications directly to patients.
"By coming together like this I think they realized they could reduce costs for everyone," said Halamka. "If you get more electronic prescribing then there is less paper, less manual costs - everyone wins."
The combined company, named Surescripts-RxHub, will be managed by a six-person board of directors which includes executives from Walgreen Co., CVS Caremark, and Express Scripts, among others. Under the deal, Surescripts and RxHub each retain a 50 percent share of the private company.