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Readers Write: I-STOP May Be the Biggest Health IT Game-Changer of All

October 8, 2014 Readers Write No Comments

I-STOP May Be the Biggest Health IT Game-Changer of All
By Tony Schueth

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Over the years, e-prescribing has needed and seen its share of enabling game-changers as it competes against the sub-minute it takes to write a paper prescription. But none may be bigger than the New York state law, I-STOP, that requires all prescriptions to be transmitted electronically by March 27, 2015.

More impactful than Meaningful Use, the Medicare Prescription, Drug Improvement and Modernization Act (MMA), or the Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act (MIPPA)? Potentially yes, but not necessarily in a positive way or limited to e-prescribing

In August 2012, the governor of New York signed the Senate Bill 7637/Assembly Bill 10623: Internet System for Tracking Over-Prescribing (I-STOP) Act into law. At the time, New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said, “I-STOP will be a national model for smart, coordinated communication between healthcare providers and law enforcement to better serve patients, stop prescription drug trafficking, and provide treatment to those who need help.”

Unlike other states where it is optional, New York prescribers are required to check the New York State prescription drug monitoring program registry database before writing a prescription for any controlled substance. I-STOP has other provisions, as well, such as improving safeguards for distribution of prescription drugs prone to abuse; medical education courses, public awareness efforts; and establishment of an unused medication disposal program.

The State of New York obviously sees e-prescribing as part of a bolder effort to curb prescription drug abuse. Kudos to the state legislators for getting that. Electronic prescriptions flow through a secure, closed channel from prescriber to pharmacy. Each step of the process is electronically logged. It is unquestionably a vast improvement over paper in reducing fraud and impeding diversion.

A law of this magnitude from a bellwether state is impactful in many ways. Other states are surely watching and, should it be successful, will likely follow. But if it’s not successful, there will be implications, too.

The impact begins with pushing along the nascent effort of e-prescribing of controlled substances (EPCS). Although the DEA passed an interim final rule in 2010 permitting such an effort, its uptake has been slow. According to Surescripts, as of July 31, 570,000 EPCS prescriptions were transmitted via their network year to date. That puts EPCS adoption at far less than one percent since about 500 million of our 3.85 billion retail prescriptions are for controlled substances.

As a recent case study supports, the biggest challenge for EPCS is that physicians still don’t know that they can prescribe controlled substances electronically and pharmacists aren’t aware they can accept them in that manner. This lack of awareness keeps physicians and pharmacists – especially independents – from requesting such functionality from their vendors. As a result, too many EHR, e-prescribing, and pharmacy vendors assign a lower priority to EPCS with what little bandwidth they have outside of Meaningful Use, ICD-10, and NCPDP SCRIPT 10.6.

According to Surescripts, only 14 prescriber vendors are certified for EPCS. While those include three of the top five EHRs and the “ePrescribing inside” markets share leaders DrFirst and NewCrop, version issues, client factors, up-sell challenges, and other considerations mean that only a  small number of EHRs are EPCS-enabled.

Nationwide, the pharmacy side is not there yet, either. While the two largest chains are able to receive and process controlled prescriptions electronically, many of the smaller chains and independents are not. According to Surescripts, 31,000 of 67,000 pharmacy locations are enabled for EPCS.

After enhancing their products to meet the New York guidelines, however, both EHRs and pharmacy software vendors should find taking their EPCS solutions elsewhere to be less of a challenge.

All that said, nationwide, it will continue to be the classic, “Which comes first, the chicken or the egg?” situation. To get past that, it takes education and coordination, which are elements of I-STOP.

For the education component, I-STOP charged a workgroup of stakeholders and the Department of Health with responsibility to guide public awareness measures. Our EHR clients tell us they aren’t hearing from their New York customers, so are physicians in New York unaware of I-STOP? A simple Google search on I-STOP yields a few articles, most from when it launched. Hopefully, a huge campaign is planned.

The prescriber consequences are significant, especially for physicians. According to the New York Bureau of Narcotic Enforcement (BNE), non-compliance is punishable by a $2,000 fine, imprisonment not exceeding one year, or both. Furthermore, it is considered to be professional misconduct by the applicable professional boards, which could lead to suspension or revocation of professional licenses.

With government mandates, enforcement is always a question. People who know the BNE and New York’s Attorney General Office say they wouldn’t hesitate to enforce this, especially given the larger objective of curbing fraud and abuse. To be sure, I wouldn’t want to be the vendor that caused the $2,000 fine or any of the more serious consequences.

From a coordination perspective, there’s nothing like a mandate and deadline to get everyone on the same page. But the consequences are to the prescriber, not the pharmacy, and the EHR vendors just have to deal with upset clients.

So, how is it going? We don’t have the most up-to-date data about New York specifically. As of December 31, 2013, 62 percent of physicians in New York were routing prescriptions, according to Surescripts. While a lot can change in a year, 38 percent of physicians are not prescribing electronically, and as noted earlier, fewer than one percent are e-prescribing controlled substances nationally. Only one of the top two EHRs in New York is EPCS-certified through Surescripts, so the others have a lot of ground to cover by March 27, 2015.

What if large numbers miss the deadline? Issuing fines to that many prescribers will be a logistical — not to mention political — challenge. They could issue an ICD-10 or MU Stage 2-like extension or waivers. However, there’s a lot of frustration out there about those delays. New York issuing such outs or just not enforcing the law could further lessen the impact of all mandates, arguably making I-STOP the biggest game-changer ever, and not just for e-prescribing.

Tony Schueth is CEO of Point-of-Care Partners of Coral Springs, FL.

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