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The nation’s top two electronic prescribing networks plan to merge in a move that the former rivals hope will increase the use of e-prescribing technology.

The nation’s top two electronic prescribing networks plan to merge in a move that the former rivals hope will increase the use of e-prescribing technology.

SureScripts, an e-prescribing system that allows doctors to send prescriptions to retail pharmacies, plans to merge with RxHub, which sends prescriptions to mail-order firms, according to a statement from the companies.

The new network is to be called SureScripts-RxHub. It is expected to allow doctors to access patients’ health and insurance information, and send e-prescriptions to both retail and mail-order pharmacies.

“Having one network will facilitate moving to e-prescribing,” says Matthew Coffina, an analyst with Morningstar in Chicago.

As a result of the merger, doctors who prescribe medicine electronically will only have to learn one system, he says.

Similarly, the move will simplify development of technology that enables doctors to order prescriptions electronically. Before the merger, companies had to ensure that their technologies worked with and were certified by both SureScripts and RxHub.

As a result of the merger, those tech companies will only need to worry about developing software that’s compatible with one e-prescription system, Coffina says.

RxHub was founded in 2001 by CVS Caremark, Express Scripts and Medco Health Solutions, leading mail-order companies. SureScripts was formed in the same year by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association.

"For patients, payers, pharmacists and physicians, e-prescribing will help to reduce prescribing errors and drug interactions and maximize the use of the most effective, lowest-cost therapies,” John Driscoll, president of Medco’s new markets group, says in a statement.

New Jersey-based Medco says during 2008’s first quarter, more than 55 percent of mail e- prescriptions in the industry were sent to its mail-order pharmacies.

RxHub and SureScripts have been trying for years, with limited success, to persuade doctors to electronically send prescriptions to pharmacies and mail-order suppliers.

Currently, fewer than 6 percent of U.S. physicians prescribe drugs electronically, and roughly 35 million, or about 1 percent of the 3.52 billion prescriptions dispensed annually are sent electronically, according to a report, “Electronic Prescribing: Becoming Mainstream Practice,” published by the eHealth Initiative and The Center for Improving Medication Management.

Adoption of e-prescriptions has been slow because doctors bear the costs of buying new technology and learning a new system, while most of the savings go to pharmacies and, to a lesser extent, consumers, Coffina says.

As long as doctors continue to have little financial incentive to begin prescribing electronically, adoption of the technology will lag, Coffina says.

However, a Medicare bill recently passed by Congress would address the issue of physician incentives.

Under the bill, Medicare doctors who use e-prescribing technology would be eligible for incentive payments of 2 percent in 2009 and 2010, 1 percent in 2011 and 2012 and 0.5 percent in 2013. Physicians participating in Medicare who do not e-prescribe by 2012 would see a 2 percent payment cut.

President George W. Bush vetoed the Medicare bill, but Congress quickly overrode Bush’s bid to prevent the bill from becoming law.

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