News Caps

Published Online: Monday, February 15, 2010
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Minnesota Latest State to Implement Drug Database
In January, Minnesota joined 33 other states in creating a prescription drug monitoring program (PDMP) to track users of addictive painkillers and other controlled substances. A PDMP is a statewide electronic database that houses information on prescription medications dispensed in that state, according to the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws.

Currently, pharmacists in Minnesota are required to enter information into the database whenever they dispense a controlled substance. Minnesota’s database, which was funded by a $400,000 federal grant, will be searchable by pharmacists, doctors, and dentists by late March, when it is expected that enough information will be available to create useful patient profiles.

Although one of the goals of the program is to provide pharmacists with information that will prevent drug abusers and dealers from hopping from pharmacy to pharmacy to obtain drugs, dispensers will not be required to consult it before filling prescriptions. Pharmacists who use the database and suspect drug abuse or diversion will not be required to report their suspicions or to withhold the medication.

By state law, Minnesota pharmacies are required to inform patients of the program, either verbally or in writing on receipt of the prescription or through public signs. Information gathered through the monitoring program will not be obtainable by law enforcement without a court order or search warrant, and will be removed from the database after 1 year.



FDA Launches New Web Site to Foster Transparency

Pharmacists who field questions about clinical trials or the drug approval process have a new resource to share with their patients. The FDA recently unveiled a new microsite called FDA Basics to explain these and other agency workings to the general public.

Launched January 12, 2010, FDA Basics will answer frequently asked questions about the agency and its personnel, offer short videos explaining the function of different departments— including the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research—and host monthly webinars by senior officials from the 9 FDA centers and offices.

FDA Basics represents the first of 3 phases of the FDA Transparency Initiative, which was sanctioned by the Department of Health and Human Services in response to the Obama administration’s Open Government Initiative.

In phase 2 of the project, the task force will address how the FDA can better disclose information about its activities and decision-making, including drug approvals, without compromising confidentiality. Phase 3 will yield recommendations about the FDA’s transparency to the industries it regulates.

Commissioner of Food and Drugs Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, says, “This initiative will make information about FDA more user-friendly and accessible to the public. It fosters a better understanding about what we do.”

For more information about FDA Basics, visit www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/Basics.



Pharmacists Critical in Managing Triglycerides
It has often been stated that pharmacists are the most trusted and accessible health care professionals when it comes to managing a variety of disease states. The results of a recent study prove this statement in the area of triglyceride management.
Pharmacists play a very important role in helping adult patients understand the role of omega-3 fatty acids in triglyceride management.

The study, supported by GlaxoSmithKline, surveyed patients aged 40 and older who were treated for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, or obesity about their understanding of triglycerides and omega-3 fatty acids. The risk of having very high levels of triglycerides may be increased by diabetes, obesity, and high cholesterol. Some findings of the survey include the following:
• Roughly 50% of respondents have shopped for omega-3 fish oil supplements in their pharmacy, and of those, 42% say they feel either very or somewhat confused.
• Nearly two thirds (62%) rank pharmacists and pharmacies highly as being good sources of information in helping them manage conditions like elevated triglycerides, diabetes, or high cholesterol.
• Most (85%) say they are very or somewhat confident in their pharmacists’ recommendation regarding overall well-being.

In summary, the pharmacist is a valuable source of information on patient conditions and medications. For those patients with elevated triglycerides, pharmacists can help them understand their condition and how to improve it.


Government Releases EHR Meaningful Use Guidelines

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology have released a joint proposal detailing regulations that will shape the future of electronic health record (EHR) systems. The guidelines, which define the concept of “meaningful use” of EHR technology and propose standards for its implementation and certification, will direct the distribution of $20 billion in government incentives included in the 2009 economic stimulus package.

To qualify for funding under the new rules, providers must use electronic records in roughly 80% of all orders, with electronic prescriptions constituting a substantial component of the plan. At least 75% of all prescriptions must be electronically filed, and 80% of patients must have at least one electronic prescription and one electronic record of a medication allergy, if applicable. Regulations are also in place to test EMR systems’ ability to exchange clinical information with other providers and submit data to immunization registries. Providers adhering to these and other regulations could be eligible to receive up to $44,000 in payments between 2010 and 2011.

The rules are currently open for public comment at www.regulations.gov. The CMS expects the regulations will change over time as technology advances and a stricter standard for meaningful use emerges.

Incentives are already under way in some states, the CMS announced in January, with federal matching funds granted to Alaska, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin.


New “Twist” to Medicare
The Commissioner of Social Security, Michael J. Astrue, has teamed up with rock and roll legend Chubby Checker to educate millions of Americans about a new “twist” in the law that makes it easier to qualify for extra help with Medicare prescription drug costs. The campaign was launched in January when the effective changes took place, and it will reach the public through television, radio, and the Internet, as well as pamphlets and posters.

The extra help program will allow the nearly 9 million seniors and disabled Americans to save an average of $3900 annually in their Medicare prescription drug plan costs. Certain income limits must be met to qualify for this program; however, the new Medicare law relaxes these requirements. It eliminates counting the assistance people receive from others to pay for household expenses, such as mortgage or rent, utilities, and food, for example, as well as eliminating the cash value of life insurance as a resource or income. By applying for this program, the application process is automatically started for the Medicare Savings Program, state programs that help with other Medicare costs.

Chubby Checker— who volunteered for this campaign—said, “Listen up, America! For 50 years, people of all ages and backgrounds have danced the Twist. Now it’s important everyone learn about this new twist in the law.” Pharmacists can tell their patients who may qualify to go to www.socialsecurity. gov/extrahelp for more information.


NCPA Advocates for E-Prescribing

At a recent hearing on e-prescribing held in Alexandria, Virginia, at the Health Information Technology (HIT) Policy Committee Information Exchange Workgroup, the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) submitted testimony on the benefits of e-prescribing, while offering suggestions for improvements to strengthen the process. The volume of electronic messaging has increased from 120 million to 800 million over the last 3 years, while only 60% of independent pharmacies currently accept electronic prescriptions.

“Community pharmacists have a vested interest in making e-prescribing work, because it potentially provides more accurate and faster transmittal to pharmacists of computerized prescription information than written prescriptions,” said Bruce T. Roberts, RPh, NCPA executive vice president and CEO.

The testimony also noted problems that need correcting, including the need to verify and correct incomplete information on electronic prescriptions, challenges with installation and transactions costs, and growing the e-prescribing system responsibly so that pharmacies can implement it. Baeteena M. Black, DPh, executive director of the Tennessee Pharmacists Association and president of the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations, testified on behalf of independent community pharmacists, and presented the first of 3 panels on “E-Prescribing Today: Adoption Successes & Challenges, Part 1.”

The NCPA offered suggestions to strengthen e-prescribing, among them providing grants to offset the costs of e-prescribing for pharmacists, changing the communication system so that pharmacists can communicate back to physicians, and strengthening the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ incentives for e-prescribing participation. ■


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