Healthcare News & Insights

Health system saves millions on drugs with EHR

Prescription drugs can be expensive for hospitals, especially if they’re unusual ones. One health system used the technology in its new electronic health records (EHR) system to streamline its process for administering medication to patients, saving millions of dollars in the process. 

ThinkstockPhotos-122524533According to an article in Healthcare IT News, Mercy Health, based in Cincinnati, used its EHR to create an electronic formulary, or list of approved drugs, to make it simpler for providers to order medications that align with Mercy’s pharmaceutical contracts.

How it works

The EHR formulary was several years in the making. The process was first put in motion when Mercy Health transitioned all its facilities to a single EHR, since many of them were on different systems that weren’t able to transmit information to each other.

Once that process was finished, it took the health system three years to create its comprehensive formulary.

When putting together the formulary, the health system’s pharmacy and therapeutics committee looked at all the available research about medications in 100 drug classes and ranked them based on effectiveness, cost and potential for adverse reactions.

From there, Mercy Health placed each medication into one of four categories:

  • on the formulary and available from order sets
  • on the formulary, but not available from order sets
  • restricted to a certain disease or type of provider, and
  • neither on the formulary nor available from order sets.

With the drugs that aren’t available, Mercy tailored its EHR system to suggest alternatives to these medications that actually appear on its formulary.

If the provider still orders the non-formulary drug, he or she must document the reason for the order. The health system periodically reviews data to monitor whether providers order non-formulary drugs regularly and how much their noncompliance costs.

But most providers have cooperated with the new system. Mercy Health now has an average formulary compliance rate of over 98%. And it’s saved over $42 million on drugs since 2010, when it first switched to its universal EHR system.

First steps for hospitals

Hospitals that may be interested in a similar program should start talking with their EHR vendors about whether their system has the capability to coordinate a complex formulary verification process.

However, even a less robust drug-verification program would save hospitals money.

Many EHRs have the ability to streamline medication administration through e-prescribing. E-prescribing programs also have the ability to recommend acceptable generic drug options, as well as suggest alternatives to medications that may not be fully covered by patients’ insurance.

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