Tracking H1N1 trends through electronic prescription records

Rhode Island state health officials are tracking the spread of H1N1 influenza through electronic prescription records, which are believed to help doctors more easily identify an outbreak of the illness. The tracking is enabled by the state's success with e-prescribing and the digital healthcare infrastructure available through its partnership with Surescripts, an electronic prescription network.

Surescripts is providing epidemiologists at the state department of health with biweekly updates of antiviral prescription data from pharmacies throughout the state, including CVS, Rite Aid, Stop & Shop, and Walgreens. Epidemiologists can use the data to identify any spikes in prescriptions of Tamiflu or other antivirals, which might indicate outbreaks. The data could also reveal cases in which the medicine may be inappropriately prescribed if a large number of prescriptions are dispensed in places where no uptick in cases has been reported.

Rhode Island is believed to be the first state to use electronic pharmacy prescription data to track H1N1 cases among its entire population.

Through December 2009, Rhode Island had reportedly achieved fairly high levels of e-prescribing adoption and use. All retail pharmacies in the state were connected to the Surescripts network and were able to receive e-prescriptions. Approximately 33.5 percent of prescriptions written in the Rhode Island were e-prescriptions, and 67.5 percent of healthcare professionals with prescribing power were using the e-prescription system.

The results from the e-tracking system in Rhode Island are consistent with the data from other H1N1 surveillance systems maintained by hospitals or laboratories, which strongly supported the validity of trends measured by existing surveillance systems.

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