Groups unite to address fatal lung disease COPD

Filed under: Health Care |

A statewide group is working to create a plan to fight chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the fourth leading cause of death in Colorado.

The Colorado COPD Coalition — made up of medical professionals, research scientists, industry representatives and patients — was formed by the American Lung Association of Colorado, and is sponsored by the cancer, cardiovascular disease and pulmonary disease grants program at the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.

The group will release a report in February detailing the prevalence of COPD in Colorado.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease affects more than 400,000 Coloradoans, and is responsible for between 4,000 to 6,000 hospitalizations each year, with an annual cost to the state of more than $70 million.

COPD occurs when the tubes allowing air in and out of the lungs are partially blocked, resulting in shortness of breath. The majority of those affected by COPD are former or current smokers. While most other major causes of death (heart disease, cancer) have been decreasing during the past decade, deaths from COPD continue to rise. It is expected that by 2020, COPD will be the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Despite the overwhelming burden of this disease, few people know what COPD is and whether they are at risk for developing it. A survey conducted by the American Lung Association found that only a quarter of Coloradans knew that COPD was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute launched a nationwide COPD awareness campaign earlier this month to educate those at risk for developing COPD about the symptoms of this disease.

New program allows free electronic prescriptions

Doctors are getting help writing prescriptions and eliminating errors — mistakes that cost thousands of patients’ lives each year.

The push for electronic medical records took another step forward this month when a coalition of health care companies and technology firms launched a program to allow all doctors in the United States to write electronic prescriptions free of charge.

The National e-prescribing Patient Safety Initiative provides doctors with access to eRx Now, a Web-based tool that physicians can use to write prescriptions electronically, check for potentially harmful drug interactions and ensure that pharmacies provide appropriate medications and dosages.

“Thousands of people are dying, and we’ve been talking about this problem for ages,” said Glen Tullman, CEO of Allscripts, a Chicago-based health care technology company that initiated the project. “This is crazy. We have the technology today to prevent these errors, so why aren’t we doing it?”

The $100 million project has drawn support from a variety of partners, including Dell, Google, Aetna and numerous hospitals. Google is designing a custom search engine to assist doctors looking for health data. Insurance companies such as Aetna have pledged to provide incentives for physicians using e-prescription systems.

Although some doctors have been prescribing electronically for years, many still use pen and paper. This is the first national effort to make a Web-based tool free for all doctors. Tullman said that even though 90 percent of the country’s 550,000 doctors have access to the Internet, fewer than 10 percent have invested the time and money required to begin using electronic medical records or e-prescriptions.

Because the new program is Web based, no special software or hardware is required. NEPSI says that the system takes 15 minutes to learn. Sprint plans to give away 1,000 Web-enabled phones that can be used to transmit e-prescriptions to demonstrate the technology’s ease of use.

To keep pharmacies plugged into the new system, SureScripts, which links pharmacies around the country much like the national ATM network connects banks, will handle the e-prescriptions traffic from doctors to the country’s 55,000 pharmacies.

Automation should eliminate many of the errors that occur when pharmacists misunderstand medication names or dosages conveyed messily on paper or hurriedly by phone.

New Web site allows doctor collaboration

A Web site has been created to allow physicians to discuss problems or reactions to drugs — without having to wait for official notification from the Food and Drug Administration or a pharmaceutical company.

The free site, sermo.com, allows doctors to discuss drug interactions, as well as other issues that come up in daily practice. Sermo, which is Latin for conversation, began operating in October and has more than 5,000 registered users. The site is open only to doctors whose credentials are checked against several databases. Doctors in all 50 states can use Sermo, but it is not yet available for international use.

The company also operates as a research medium for companies to forecast uses for medical products, oversee potential disease outbreaks and perform epidemiological research based on doctors’ reported observations.

Doctors can join free of charge, but sermo.com can serve as a financial resource for some physicians. Financial institutions that rely on a stream of fresh information about market trends in health care can also access doctors’ information. The company has set aside a cash reserve to reward doctors’ whose insights are “deemed highly relevant and valuable,” according to the Web site.

Amy Gillentine covers health care for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.