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Aurora takes automated prescription service to clinics throughout Wisconsin

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Physicians to use hand-held computer technology

MILWAUKEE, Wis., In a move some doctors are calling a step into the future of medicine, Aurora Health Care has begun implementing electronic prescription technology at Aurora clinics throughout eastern Wisconsin. It's technology that promises to enhance patient safety and reduce the potential of medication errors.

Aurora physicians will have access to handheld pocket-sized wireless computers with software from Allscripts Healthcare Solutions (NASDAQ: MDRX) to "write" patient prescriptions. Instead of using the traditional prescription pad and ink pen, physicians will use a personal digital assistant, or PDA, and a stylus. At the point of care, the software will automatically check for possible drug interactions, prior adverse reactions, and allergies, thus adding a measure of patient safety each time physicians write a prescription.

The technology is already in place at eight Aurora clinics that participated in an eight-month pilot project. Other clinic sites will come on board throughout the next ten months, beginning with both Aurora Health Centers in Oshkosh this month.

"The care and safety of our patients is paramount," says Eliot Huxley, M.D., president of Aurora Medical Group, which provides care at 75 clinics throughout eastern Wisconsin. "This program represents our response to rising national concern over medication errors. The Institute for Safe Medication Practices has called for eliminating handwritten prescriptions by 2003. I have no doubt that our success could be a blueprint for the rest of the nation."


The TouchWorks Rx+(TM) electronic prescribing software is part of a suite of clinical applications created by Allscripts Healthcare Solutions, Inc., the leading provider of point-of-care decision support tools for physicians. The system works in real-time through a wireless network of radio frequency transmitters connected to central computers and printers within clinics. Small antennas mounted throughout the clinics allow physicians to use their PDAs wherever they work. The computers use specially designed software, allowing physicians to write prescriptions, automatically check for possible adverse interactions, and immediately send these prescriptions to any pharmacy of the patient's choosing.

"Pharmacy wait times should be much shorter, and may be eliminated entirely," according to John Gates, R. Ph., district manager for Aurora Pharmacy. "Ideally, your prescription would be ready when you arrive."

Traditional paper prescriptions can still be generated if a patient prefers to hand deliver it to their pharmacist. Copies of the electronic prescription will automatically become part of the patient's medical record.

"The use of PDAs could markedly change the way physicians and clinics work," states Dr. Huxley.

Benefits: patient safety, convenience, efficiency

While the most important reason for bringing the TouchWorks(TM) program to Aurora Health Care is patient safety, the system will also make health care a more convenient process for patients and a more efficient process for Aurora clinics. The automatic checks built into the software ensure patient safety through automatic drug interaction and allergy checking in just a few seconds. Previously, physicians would take time to retrieve and review a patient's history before writing a prescription, including possible drug interactions or allergies. It would not be uncommon for a physician or assistant to repeat the process if a pharmacist has a problem reading the prescription, needs clarification on dosage or directions, or to recommend an alternative medication covered by the patient's insurance.

This duplication of effort between doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and office staff can mean delays for patients in addition to increasing the possibility of medication errors. These automatic checks result in safer prescriptions in a more timely fashion.

"The system enhances patient safety with a three-pronged approach - it eliminates doctor handwriting, tests for drug to drug interactions, and tests for patient drug allergies or possible adverse reactions," says John Schwab, M.D. an internist at Wilkinson Medical Clinic in Hartland, one of the sites involved in the pilot project. Dr. Schwab was instrumental in testing the new program. "In the past, if I had 45 different patients with 45 different insurance plans, then I had 45 different drug formularies to review. The new system does it automatically. It's a huge step forward," explains Schwab. Physicians will see a message pop up on their PDAs that would alert them to contraindications or possible problems with the prescription they are writing, and allow them to modify it accordingly at the point of care, saving time for the patient at the pharmacy.

Using the e-prescribing software, many tasks can now be automated, allowing physicians to spend more time with their patients. And, the clarity of electronic prescriptions can free up staff from the large volume of telephone traffic to and from pharmacies that currently occurs in many clinics relating to questions about individual prescriptions.

To further enhance safety and for regulatory reasons, prescriptions for controlled substances cannot be electronically transmitted to pharmacies. These prescriptions will be printed by the system and manually signed by the physician.


Patient privacy is protected by requiring doctors to use a unique sign-on and password before entering a prescription. In addition, the transmitted data is encrypted, including prescriptions that are sent to pharmacies.

"This is a major investment in equipment and technology but one that could potentially have a tremendous benefit in terms of accuracy and patient safety," explains Harry Moseley, director of Information Services for Aurora Medical Group and leader of the team in charge of developing and testing the initial pilot program. "This is just another example of how Aurora is looking for new and better ways to provide health care. Our physicians have already written some 48,000 scripts with the new system."

Another component of the automated prescription program further enhances security while also expanding its capabilities. An interface between physician PDAs and Aurora Medical Group's computerized practice management system allows physicians to see all scheduled appointments at their fingertips, as well as additional information on each patient without physically opening a file, thus further protecting patient privacy. The central database currently contains well over 1.4 million patient records.

The pilot program was conducted at the Wilkinson Medical Clinic in Hartland, and Aurora clinics in New Berlin, Lake Geneva, Kenosha, DePere, Cedar Grove, Sheboygan and downtown Milwaukee.

Aurora Health Care is a community-owned Wisconsin health care provider and a nationally recognized leader in efforts to improve the quality of health care.

Allscripts Healthcare Solutions is the leading provider of point-of-care decision support solutions for physicians. The Company's TouchWorks software products enhance physician productivity using a wireless handheld device or desktop workstation to automate the most common physician activities including prescribing, capturing charges, dictating, ordering labs and viewing results, providing patient education, and taking clinical notes.

TouchWorks Rx+ and TouchWorks are trademarks of Allscripts Healthcare Solutions. Visit Allscripts on the Web at

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