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Health Could Mean Wealth for Microsoft

WellPoint Health Networks and Microsoft Thursday announced a step forward in their project to drag doctors into the digital age.

Microsoft's Healthcare and Life Sciences Group is acting as WellPoint's technology consultant in its $40 million initiative to provide physicians in its network with the most efficient technology. The two partners have selected the technology vendors for the Prescription Improvement Package that will give doctors the ability to prescribe electronically. Consulting firm Cap Gemini is managing the overall project for WellPoint.

The Prescription Improvement Package offers doctors a wireless PDA with which they can access their own practice software as well as WellPoint's systems and information; a wireless access point; and a one-year subscription to an e-prescribing service.

The companies chose Allscripts Healthcare Solutions and Zix Corp.

Participating doctors can chose from a PC or Dell Axim X3i Windows mobile-based Pocket PC devices connected directly to the Internet via Cisco Aironet Wireless Access Points installed in the doctor's office. Physicians and their staffs also will be able to access the TouchScript software via a browser from a PC in the office and remotely.

Hardware will come pre-loaded with e-prescribing software and a standard list of frequently prescribed medications, so that doctors can use menus to prescribe, instead of scrawling the name of the drug, the companies said. Once a drug is selected, the PDA automatically refers to WellPoint's systems to check eligibility and make sure that there are no potential negative interactions with other drugs the patient is taking. The physician can print the prescription for the patient, or transmit it to a pharmacy.

There's a critical need to wean physicians from their paper prescription pads. According to the Institute of Medicine, medical errors cause up to 98,000 deaths per year in our nation, and that 7,000 of those are attributable to medication errors. Meanwhile, the Foundation for eHealth Initiative estimates that nationwide implementation of e-prescribing technologies could save the healthcare system $29 billion a year by reducing medication errors, decreasing duplication of services and increasing use of generic drugs.

"We're seeing a tipping point in the market," Glen Tullman, CEO of Allscripts, told internetnews.com. "It's been waiting for the right technology in terms of wireless, devices and tablets; the right software that's easy to use, intuitive and very fast; and the right connectivity to allow physicians to prescribe and directly route to pharmacies."

WellPoint said it plans on making the equipment and e-prescription service free to almost 19,000 network physicians in California, Georgia, Missouri and Wisconsin. After the year's trial is up, the physicians will be able to keep their prescriptions to the AllScripts TouchScript service.

Steve Shihadeh, general manager of Microsoft's Healthcare and Life Sciences division, said that while physicians have long agreed that e-prescribing would be a good thing, the cost of the hardware was prohibitive, but, even more important, the process was slower than handwriting. "Our technology is reasonably priced, and they're used to having it in the practice," he said.

WellPoint Health Networks operates Blue Cross of California, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Georgia, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Missouri, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wisconsin, HealthLink and UNICARE, and has approximately 15.4 million medical members and approximately 46 million specialty members in the U.S.

Tullman and Shihadeh said WellPoint's initiative to jumpstart the use of e-prescribing could finally bring physicians into the modern age.

"With WellPoint stepping up and providing the introductory funding to get physicians over the hump," Tullman said, "I think we'll see a very dramatic impact on electronic prescribing. It will have an impact on not only the efficiency of physicians but also on safety and the reduction of medical errors."