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3/13/2012
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Walgreens To Send Immunization, Clinic Records Electronically

Pharmacy giant taps Surescripts network to connect with primary care physicians, promote continuity of care.

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Electronic prescribing connectivity network Surescripts is teaming with pharmacy giant Walgreen Co. to deliver patient immunization records electronically to physicians. The two companies also plan to offer to transfer immunization records to public health authorities and move patient summaries from in-store clinics to primary-care doctors.

Arlington, Va.-based Surescripts, which already connects to most of the nation's pharmacies, will give Walgreens pharmacists and clinicians from the pharmacy chain's 350 Take Care Clinic facilities the choice of sending records over the Surescripts network rather than by fax or snail mail. "This is just extending that service to an electronic option," Walgreens spokesman Michael Polzin told InformationWeek Healthcare.

Surescripts cited an internal survey that found that 39% of physicians frequently are missing immunization records during patient visits and that 35% often lack patient summaries from other healthcare providers. "From a physician's perspective, you really want to have a full picture of your patients' immunizations," Surescripts president and CEO Harry Totonis said in an interview. "We believe we are in a position to make this happen."

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"We know how difficult it is for patients to remember which immunizations they've had and when. This will help physicians have a more thorough healthcare conversation with their patients," Dr. Jeffrey Kang, senior vice president of health and wellness services and solutions for Walgreens, said in a statement.

After a rollout expected to take several months, Surescripts said it will be able to send electronic copies of records from all 7,800 Walgreens and Duane Reade locations nationwide, including those with Take Care Clinics. Polzin said to expect a "big push" toward the end of the summer, when children need to submit immunization records to schools, and at the start of the next flu season.

Walgreens pharmacists, nurse practitioners, and physician assistants have administered more than 5.5 million immunizations since the beginning of the current flu season, according to the company. Totonis said that Surescripts will be building on its relationships with vendors of electronic health records (EHRs) to deliver immunization data and summaries from retail clinics directly into patient records at primary-care physician offices, helping to achieve some of the goals of the $27 billion federal Meaningful Use EHR incentive program. "The whole concept of Meaningful Use is the ability for connectivity--sharing clinical information for continuity of care," said Totonis.

He said that vendors will have to certify their systems on the Surescripts network, much as they already do for e-prescribing services. "We hope that this fosters a brand-new, two-way communication between physician and pharmacy," he said.

Polzin said that Walgreens is educating its pharmacy and Take Care Clinic staff about the impending availability of the service, but the changes should not drastically affect workflow for Walgreens employees. According to the company spokesman, staff will continue asking customers who receive medical care or immunizations at Walgreens locations if they have a primary-care physician. Employees then will be able to choose to send records electronically, via fax, or simply print out a copy for each customer.

Totonis said that Surescripts is exploring similar deals with other pharmacy chains.

Healthcare providers must collect all sorts of performance data to meet emerging standards. The new Pay For Performance issue of InformationWeek Healthcare delves into the huge task ahead. Also in this issue: Why personal health records have flopped. (Free registration required.)

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