HIMSS 2022: First Databank's ePrescribing network ushers new capabilities, participants into an established market

ORLANDO, Florida—First Databank, a San Francisco provider of drug and medical device databases, has launched a cloud-based electronic prescribing network President Bob Katter said is poised to revamp a stagnant slice of the healthcare technology market.

While about 90% of prescriptions are transmitted across healthcare entities electronically, and often within a user’s workflow thanks to electronic health record (EHR) integration, Katter said several players are either left out or forced to go through laborious manual processes to dispense certain treatments.

Further, whenever any market is dominated by a single large entity—in this case, SureScripts—“you’ll often see less innovation and higher costs” until another player makes things competitive, he said.

With the company’s new offering, called FDB Vela, Katter said organizations will have access to new types of transactions alongside the more standard eligibility and script routing.

These additions include real-time pharmacy benefit checking, which allows clinicians to review prior authorization requirements and out-of-pocket costs during a patient encounter, as well as specialty enrollment services that cut down on the manual, time-consuming process a pharmacy is required to complete before dispensing certain specialty drugs, he said.

“[The current ePrescribing process] is just not very streamlined, and we think there’s a chance to bring all of that together in a more unified network to make it easier for the providers, the payers, the pharmacies—really everybody who’s participating,” Katter told Fierce Healthcare.

That number of participants also stands to grow with the launch of Vela, according to FDB.

Alongside providers, pharmacies, pharmacy benefit managers and insurance companies, the new network now makes ePrescribing available to veterinary pharmacies, pharmaceutical services hubs deployed by manufacturers to handle the specialty medication process and other smaller organizations that may have had limited access.

EHRs and other tech platforms looking to implement the network’s services can do so “within weeks” rather than months using application programming interfaces built on Microsoft’s cloud-based Azure, according to the announcement. Katter said the company has already rolled out the network with a “handful” of early partners and has “tens of millions” of eligible lives in the network prior to today’s official launch.

FDB Vela meets the requirements set by the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs and is nonexclusive, allowing participants such as providers, pharmacies, payers and others to use its services alongside those of another ePrescribing network, according to the announcement.

Katter said that although this no-exclusivity approach would likely require organizations to create unique routes for various drugs, FDB believes it’ll be worth their time due to “competitive” rates it can offer for numerous—but not all—products.

Katter was also confident in Vela’s prospects due to the reach his company already has within the market. Roughly 2 in 3 prescriptions written in the U.S. are already relying on content from FDB’s core business, he said, meaning FDB has a foot in the door with many new subscribers.

"In fact, several of these large customers approached us about getting into this service. In that sense, we view it more as an extension to our current customers,” he said. “That’s not to say we wouldn’t love new customers to come on board as well, but in terms of how we commercialize we’re obviously going to tap into our extensive customer base that we already serve.”

Following FDB's launch announcement, Surescripts representatives on the HIMSS 2022 show floor said the market leader welcomes sources of ePrescribing innovation and contended that its network has made key iterations over the past handful of years.

Melanie Marcus, chief marketing officer of Surescripts, highlighted new data in the company's 2021 National Progress Report showing that customers cut their specialty prescription turnaround time by an average of two days. 

She also noted that nearly half of U.S. prescribers used Surescripts' real-time prescription benefit features, and that quality and accuracy of Surescripts' prescriptions has increased 80% over the last five years. 

"We were pioneers with ePrescribing 21 years ago and have been innovating since then, and have been innovating across the portfolio … to further enhance prescribing and inform the care decision process," she said.