Tony Schueth is CEO and managing partner of Point-of-Care Partners of Coral Springs, FL.
Tell me about yourself and the company.
Point-of-Care Partners is a health IT strategy and management consulting firm that I started 12 years ago when I left Merck-Medco, which is a pharmacy benefit management company that was owned by the pharmaceutical manufacturer Merck. We are unique because we focus on a subject matter and then work across stakeholders. For example, health plans, PBMs, integrated delivery networks, EHR vendors, and other technology companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers are all our clients.
The first subject matter that we focused on was electronic prescribing. Then we consulted and worked with all the different stakeholders in prescribing. The subject matter that we focus on now are some variations of e-prescribing, including e-prescribing of controlled substances, specialty e-prescribing, but also electronic prior authorization, population health, clinical decision support, clinical messaging, real-world evidence and outcomes, health information exchange, and patient engagement. We also have three new solutions and services built primarily for EHRs, a 50-state regulatory analysis of e-prescribing and e-prior authorization laws as well as a database of NPIs-to-EHR, including version numbers.
I got my start in electronic prescribing in the mid 1990s when I was a product manager for an early-generation e-prescribing solution and have been working in electronic prescribing ever since then. We have created a transaction standard that supports the process. We also have intermediaries that specialize in e-prescribing. Prescriptions are flowing electronically. It’s a true success story, in my opinion. It’s also gratifying.
Recently I was listening to a panel of physicians talk about and complain their electronic health records. I asked them, "OK, I’ve heard all these negative things, but what do you like most about your EHR?" To a person, they said electronic prescribing.
For someone who has been in this business for nearly 20 years, that made me feel proud. But it didn’t happen overnight and we’re not finished yet. The areas where we still need to address are e-prescribing of controlled substances and e-prescribing of specialty medications. We still have some challenges around data quality, such as formulary files, as well as unintended consequences of e-prescribing or data issues where maybe inadvertently the wrong dosage was chosen or something like that.
Companies like Surescripts have built networks and seem to have ambitions that go beyond just pushing transactions around. How do those networks fit in the big picture of interoperability?
I also have a great deal of experience in health information exchange arena. I worked in the mid 1990s for the largest Community Health Information Network or CHIN vendor of that era. It was pre-Internet and only a small portion of the data was digitized. What we learned is that once a pipe is established, it can be used for more than just what it was originally intended for.
But sometimes it’s not so easy. For example, we have worked with companies focused on administrative and financial transactions who aspired to exchange clinical information. The challenge is that the user of the administrative and financial information is not necessarily the user of the clinical data. As always, we need to really think about workflow, especially in the physicians’ office.
The other advantage the national networks have over public HIEs is that it’s not just local competitors glaring at each other across a small room. Providers don’t seem to worry about connecting to a network that has a big competitor as just one of many national members. Will the balance shift towards proprietary networks?
About 10 years ago when RHIOs were first forming, eHealth Initiative retained me to bring forward some lessons learned from the CHIN era to the RHIO – and subsequently HIE – era. I was uniquely positioned to seek out and speak with some of the founding fathers of the previous era and asked them if they thought it would work this time around.
There were mixed reactions. All pointed out the advantages we have today, including the Internet, digitized data, and federal and state governments that have passed supportive laws and regulations. About half were optimistic, but the others thought the biggest challenge that still remains is that of the competition you just mentioned.
It’s nearly universally agreed that healthcare is local. You get local competitors in the same room and to decide how to exchange information and they all say the right things. But when it comes to prioritization, investment, and those kinds of things, they’re not always stepping forward and supporting in the way that’s needed for a successful initiative.
To answer your question directly, yes, some of these larger, more national exchanges don’t have the competitive issues, but they have other issues. You really need to look at every situation differently and adjust to the different situations.
How do pharma and medical device companies see provider EHRs and the information they contain?
Pharma is waking up to EHRs. They’ve always been part of my consulting equation, having previously been employed by companies owned partially by Merck and Lilly. In the early days of my consulting — especially around electronic prescribing — they would say, "Come back to me when all of my doctors are prescribing electronically," A Surescripts report just came out that said that 56 percent of doctors are prescribing electronically, but I had a side conversation with a Surescripts executive who said that 80 percent of specialists who practice in the ambulatory environment are prescribing electronically.
We may not have all, but we’re pretty much there. Pharma gets that electronic health records are the center of the healthcare universe at the moment and want to understand how it’s impacting them, both positively and negatively.
Several years ago, we had an engagement with a company that was concerned that patients with COPD were being misdiagnosed with asthma. With that diagnosis, the prescriber could choose from several medications that were optimal for asthma, not COPD. That situation was not only sub-optimal for the manufacturer, but for the patient as well. They wanted to understand how to get guidelines – a series of five simple questions – included in the EHR that would help diagnose patients as having COPD. Then, yes, the prescriber might write a prescription for their drug. But this company didn’t even have the largest market share in that category. They were satisfied with the patient being properly diagnosed. Wouldn’t that be good for us all?
Do you have any final thoughts?
I just got back from Health Datapalooza and there was a lot of talk there about the future. A lot of excitement and enthusiasm for being able to use data more effectively in healthcare. I believe we have a lot of challenges with healthcare data, but we’re making progress. Like health information exchange; like e-prescribing. We have to start somewhere and it’s not going to happen overnight.
Eventually I believe I will be at a conference with a panel of physicians talking about how they practice medicine. When I ask them what tool they like the best, I expect they’ll say their EHR. I know we have a ways to go to get there, but I believe we’re on the way. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen. I’m extremely excited to be leading a firm that is helping to make that a reality.