Monthly Archives: October 2015

Why E-Prescription is an Important Step Towards E-Health

Italian Regions are racing towards the goal of de-materialization of prescriptions of medicines. While the national average percentage of electronic prescriptions has not yet reached 50%, certain Regions are recording percentages above 80% (Veneto, Sicily, Campania, and Aosta Valley), according to the latest data published by Il Sole 24 Ore Sanità on the September 8-14 issue. The goal of 90% of de-materialized prescriptions, which has been postponed to 2016 by Law no. 11 of 2015, is getting closer. E-prescriptions will also have an interesting feature that may prove helpful for certain patients: the validity of e-prescriptions would no longer be limited to a single Region, but would spread to the national level.

What are the advantages of e-prescribing and why is it considered a crucial step towards E-Health? Saving on the cost of paper, as cited by certain commentators, is definitely not the point. E-Health requires costly investments in the field of Information Technology, which will not be easily set-off by money saved on paper!

E-prescriptions actually promise much more substantial benefits:

  • Increase of patients’ safety and error reduction: an electronic system can lead to less mistakes due, for example, to the selection of incorrect or unavailable drug dosages, the duplication of therapies or the misinterpretation of the content of the prescription, the avoidance of mistakes linked to the omission of certain information (e.g., allergies).
  • Better monitoring of appropriateness and control of the cost of therapies: e-prescriptions can be a formidable tool to gather data and keep track of health costs in real time, which may lead to a more efficient control on expenditures at every level. As an example, think about what an automatic alert suggesting more cost effective therapies or an optimization of the current therapy may do for a single patient and for the health system in general.

Let’s keep on counting electronic prescriptions (21 million out of 48 million last June!): they will not be the panacea for the national health system, but they can be a great step forward.

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The Safe Harbor Decision (And What Is Wrong With It)

As most people and businesses on either side of the Atlantic are now aware, on October 6, 2015 the European Court of Justice invalidated the Commission’s Safe Harbor decision and made the transfer of personal data to the United States slightly more difficult for businesses.

The Court decision is based on two fundamental findings: first, the Commission’s Safe Harbor decision did not find – as it was required to do according to the Court – that the United States ensures a level of protection of fundamental rights essentially equivalent to that guaranteed within the European Union. Second, and equally important, the Court held that the Commission had no authority to restrict the powers of national data protection authorities to examine complaints of their citizens and assess whether the transfer of data to the United States affords an adequate level of protection.

Until the recent Court decision, the Safe Harbor program has provided a framework for the transfer of personal data from the European Union to the United States. Safe Harbor, however, is neither the only way to transfer personal data to the United States, nor the most commonly used. United States undertakings have consistently used – and will be able to continue to use even after the Court’s decision – model clauses and binding corporate rules.

As European and US undertakings have a wide variety of tools available to transfer data to the United States, the most troubling finding of the Court’s decision is not the invalidation of the Safe Harbor per se, but rather the recognition of much broader powers to member states’ data protection authorities. While the Safe Harbor scheme provided a single and simplified framework that was easily understood by United States’ businesses, the new decision leaves uncertainty as to the approach that each member state’s data protection authorities will take in connection with the export of their citizens’ data. As a consequence, in spite of the current efforts by European authorities to adopt a single data protection regulation ensuring a more uniform legislation throughout the continent, the Court decision is likely to lead – for at least some time – to a more fragmented and less clear legal framework among different member states.

Last, but not least, it is worth noting that one of the main reasons that led the Court to invalidate the Safe Harbor Commission’s decision has been the discovery of mass surveillance programs by US national security intelligence agencies and their rights to access personal data of European citizens. The concern of the European Court of Justice is well grounded and all of us, as individuals, are likely to share that same concern. However, why is the Court not equally worried about the surveillance programs and data retention policies adopted by several member states over the last few years?

Many have pointed out (see for instance here and here) that the Court decision is the result of different sensitivities between US and European people when it comes to the protection of their privacy, being the Europeans more keen to consider the protection of their personal data as a fundamental human right (or, rather, very keen on teaching data protection lessons to the United States). However, the failure of the European Court of Justice to acknowledge that such fundamental right is as much at risk within the borders of Europe as it is outside leaves us wondering whether the Court is really protecting the substance of our privacy as European citizens.

Another September, Another Spending Review.

This is almost becoming a tradition for the national healthcare service in Italy. Comes September… and a new spending review hits the pharmaceutical and medical device industry.

On August 4, 2015 a law decree has been approved by lawmakers, which introduces a number of new mechanisms for monitoring and reining in public spending in the healthcare sector. In particular, the new legislation has introduced several measures:

  • Negotiations with current suppliers of the national healthcare service in order to achieve a 5% reduction in current spending for general supplies;
  • Negotiations with current suppliers of medical devices in order to comply with the spending thresholds agreed upon between the central government and regional authorities;
  • Centralized negotiations with pharmaceutical companies in order to decrease the reimbursement price of products currently reimbursed by the national healthcare service.

While measures aimed at cutting spending in connection with general supplies and medical devices have been entrusted in principle to local authorities and healthcare providers, the national pharmaceutical agency (“AIFA”) plays a central role in the envisaged mechanism to achieve savings for pharmaceutical products. In accordance with the provisions of the new decree, AIFA has indeed conducted negotiations throughout the month of September 2015, with the aim of decreasing overall spending. The new legislation provides the grouping of products in several “clusters” that include therapeutically similar products, regardless of their active principles. The lowest price in each cluster is then used as the reference price for direct negotiations between AIFA and manufacturers.

The new measures also provide that, in case of failure to reach an agreement, reimbursement by the national healthcare service may be withdrawn. However, it is also expressly provided that generic products are not admitted to reimbursement until any patents and supplementary protection certificates of branded products are definitely expired, thus providing the industry with assurances in connection with their protected drugs.

The reiterated attempts by public authorities to renegotiate prices with suppliers appear to clash not only with basic contractual principles (“pacta sunt servanda”), but also with fundamental rules of public procurement legislation. As the government (in fact, almost yearly) demands discounts on existing contracts, reliance on such contracts is affected, along with transparency and open competition in public procurement procedures. The truth is that the need to cut public expenditures is increasingly overriding basic tenets of contracts and public procurement law.

Med Tech and Pharma industry associations have voiced their concerns, while suggesting that efficiency and savings may be obtained by the national healthcare service through internal reorganization processes rather than by demanding additional discounts to suppliers. In fact, if we step aside from the conflicting commercial interests of suppliers (who want to maximize their revenues) and purchasers (who need to minimize their costs), we cannot but note that, again, the government appears to use cost cutting tools that focus on quantity rather than quality. On the contrary, we would expect that more emphasis should be given to Health Technology Assessment and innovation. We surely need to spend less money, but also to spend it more wisely.