Publisher's Window: July/August 2013
The Government Accountability Office just released its report to Congress on electronic drug labeling, following extensive interviews with a number of industry stakeholders. There was no consensus reached on the advantages of electronic labeling over paper. In case you are interested, the report is available at www.gao.gov.
There are several impediments to a conversion, least of which would be amending various FDA regulations. Manufacturers are now providing paper-based drug information. We know this as the professional package inserts that accompany products delivered to pharmacies. The report pointed out that if patients want to continue to receive paper labeling, the cost of printing would shift to pharmacies.
There was also concern voiced that accessing drug information electronically would be disruptive to the workflow in a pharmacy. The report pointed out that “some pharmacists could find it easier, when counseling patients, to take the paper ver•sion of the labeling directly from the drug package and show it to the patient at the counter rather than searching for the information on a computer and then showing the patient the computer monitor or printing the labeling.” Another problem with a paperless system, according to the report, is that there are still pockets in this country where there isn’t Internet access.
The big advantage of electronic labeling is that any change to information about a drug does not have to work its way through the supply chain. Pharmacists would have access to these changes in a far more timely fashion.
Bottom line: It will be business as usual for the foreseeable future.
Cloud computing is changing the way we use software. In a June report, Merrill Lynch stated that approximately 20% of software spending now goes to the cloud, and that the number of people using cloud computing will double in the next four years. It’s remarkable how the Internet has changed the way we network, gain knowledge, pay our bills, book our flights, store our data — the list could go on. The Internet will continue to change the way we live and do business, yet it still isn’t prime time when it comes to delivering paperless labeling.
Cloud computing is giving us “smart” applications that a few years ago were unthinkable. The Merrill Lynch report gives as an example what it calls “wearable computing,” which could be watches, jewelry, glasses, smart fabrics, and even contact lenses. This stuff is becoming a reality.
Healthcare is a prime candidate to benefit from cloud computing. Wearable computing will allow monitoring of a person’s vital signs, know the location of the person, and feed this information into the person’s electronic health record. The report attributes such smart applications to the availability of more powerful batteries and smaller, more powerful computer chips. We are starting to see some of these smart applications in healthcare.
The computing landscape continues to change at what seems to be a very rapid rate these days. CT
Bill Lockwood, chairman/publisher, can be reached at email@example.com.