Monthly Archives: May 2011

Expanding EHRs to Include OTC Meds

My recent post about the Supreme Court’s decision in the case involving over-the-counter Zicam cold remedy got me thinking about over-the-counter (OTC) medication and personal health records (PHRs). PHRs are a logical next step in the evolving application of computer systems to capture, analyze and use healthcare information. In fact, many EHRs, including Practice Fusion, provide patients with PHRs. But, neither the EHRs nor the PHRs I have seen incorporate information about OTC medication and devices yet. How could that be done?

Some EHRs, including Practice Fusion provide two pieces to the puzzle: electronic transmission of prescriptions to my local pharmacy and an electronic file for my data: a PHR. My pharmacy provides two pieces: a frequent shopper card (FSC) and they upload prescription data to my PHR. The basic links and basic data provide a good starting point.

A workable system might look a lot like this: My doctor’s EHR company provides me with a personal health record. The EHR company and my pharmacy enter into an agreement to exchange data. I designate my PHR as the destination for my pharmacy’s transmissions.

Near the end of my next visit to my doctor sends two electronic prescriptions to my pharmacy; I pick them up. No change there, I can do that today. My pharmacist notes that one medication is for high blood pressure and recommends a blood pressure monitor that will transmit the results to my PHR. I pay for the prescriptions, monitor and a magazine using my FSC and credit card. The pharmacy uses the information associated with my FSC to send a confirmation of the purchase of my prescription including the last four numbers of each prescription (just in case I only picked up one of the two prescriptions). The pharmacy uses the same information from my FSC card and their inventory system to report that I purchased a blood pressure monitor that can transmit the readings. It does not mention the magazine. My personal health record forwards the information to my doctor’s EHR.

A month later, I refill my prescriptions and pick up an OTC medication. The pharmacy uses information from my FSC to send a confirmation to my doctor that I picked up my prescriptions. My doctor now knows I am continuing to take the medication. Her electronic health record can track my continued purchases or my failure to continue and recommend appropriate action. My pharmacy uses their FSC tracking system and inventory system to capture the information about the OTC medication and reports that to my PHR which forwards all of the information to my doctor’s EHR.

My doctor’s EHR checks the OTC meds for potential harmful interactions with my prescriptions and any other OTC meds I have reported. It also checks for any alerts such as evidence that Zicam caused people to lose their sense of smell. The EHR alerts my doctor and/or me if appropriate.
On my next visit my doctor sees that I now have a blood pressure monitor that can transmit data and suggests that I check my pressure weekly and send the information to my PHR. My doctors EHR will pick up the data and track any significant changes.
On the visit after that, my doctor is considering a change in my blood pressure medication but notes that there is a potentially harmful interaction with the OTC medication I bought. She now has information that will allow her to recommend I stop taking the OTC meds, she can select an alternative medication, she can ask me to check my blood pressure and send the data daily, or a number of other options. More and better health data gives my doctor and me more options.
So how do I keep my meds separate from my wife’s? My doctor’s EHR sets up a “family PHR.” My prescriptions with my name on them are reported to my PHR and everything else is reported to my family’s PHR. My wife or I or both of us move items from the family PHR to our own with a click of a mouse. My doctors EHR can send an alert to me if it finds a potentially harmful interaction with my medications and some on my family PHR. I can then unlink that med from my name (it was for my wife or one of the kids) or link it to my name so appropriate actions can be recommended to my doctor and/or me.
If I go to another doctor about an unrelated matter and he uses the same EHR I can give him direct access to my PHR. Alternatively, I can have records sent from my PHR to my new specialist and request appropriate records from him so I can update my PHR. If my new specialist uses the same EHR, I now have a medical team that always has current information about my conditions, prescriptions and OTC meds and available devices.
My doctors and I now have better information to provide healthcare at lower cost.
My pharmacy is now contributing information that gives me and my family a strong reason to give them all of our non-medical healthcare related business. Almost any FSC based system will have some capability to analyze purchases vis-à-vis individual card holders. The tabulation and transmission of the required data should be evolutionary, not revolutionary.
OTC manufacturers and distributors should find de-identified information about their products and any side-effects or unexpected benefits valuable. In the Zicam case the record showed that there was no loss of the sense of smell among the members of the company’s research group. Even a symptom with low frequency can be significant if the harm done to a few individuals is substantial, as it was in that case.
EHRs are still in the process of using the full capabilities of the Internet to gather, analyze and distribute data that will improve healthcare and reduce costs. This is just one of many near-term future opportunities.

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