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BioPharma: Drug Databases

HIT Perspectives Biopharma Insights – December 2014

Drug Databases: A growing Resource for Patient Care and Safety

By Brian Bamberger, Life Sciences Practice Lead

Drug databases are integral to patient care and safety. They provide clinicians, pharmacists, payers, wholesalers, hospitals and others with a wealth of such valuable information as drug name, related generics, therapeutic class, National Drug Code (NDC) number and prices. They also include information about allergies and possible drug interactions with other medications, thus helping to prevent medication errors. Commercial database vendors may offer additional data covering a variety of topics, including immunization history, patient education, herbal medications and Medicaid drug rebates. In short, drug databases are becoming even more useful in supporting cost-effective patient care and safety.

Providing users the most up-to-date information is challenging. Updates to commercial and proprietary databases vary; some are updated weekly while others may be refreshed monthly or even quarterly. Vendors have come a long way since the early days of electronic prescribing (ePrescribing) in transmitting updates to clients. While updates were once available only through CDs, the industry has kept pace with technology to provide varied electronic access databases. We can envision a time in the near future when users will access a database directly at its source without a local copy.

Availability of current drug data is important to all stakeholders, who need to know about newly launched products and pricing changes. Affordability is a key factor in determining whether patients continue to take their medications as prescribed, switch to another drug  or abandon their treatment altogether. Cost data are vital to payers with regard to formulary management, as well as purchasers in hospitals and clinics. Information regarding allergies and possible drug interactions support drug utilization review, which is key to improving patient safety and quality of care. However, syncing users with database updates is easier said than done. This has been a low priority for electronic health record (EHR) vendors, who have been concentrating on meeting meaningful use requirements. In fact, recent data compiled by Point-of-Care Partners (POCP) show degradation in how often EHR vendors make updates available—especially when using a home-grown database. Latency of medication information can delay the development and use of alerts related to patient safety concerns about particular products.

Lack of timely product updates can frustrate prescribers when they can’t find a recently launched branded drug in their EHR system. Varying update schedules can have additional negative consequences for the pharmaceutical industry. Until updates occur, brand managers sometimes find that prescriptions are being written for competitive brands and the sales force may encounter problems finding their branded drugs in EHRs, which undermines their credibility and that of their products among providers.

To be sure, these problems have always existed, but have become more apparent with the recent surge in EHR adoption over the past few years. The problems of missing drug data or data latency have not been lost on drug database companies. POCP works regularly with several, which are diligently endeavoring to issue more frequent new-drug updates to clients and reconcile their databases in light of the complexities of differing release schedules and constantly changing technologies.