Pharmacist stirs up a software remedy A business is born: NeighborCare Chairman Michael Bronfein's new company, Neighbor- Ware, is unveiling a software line today.

November 15, 1995|By M. William Salganik | M. William Salganik,SUN STAFF

As the boss of the rapidly growing NeighborCare Pharmacies chain, Michael Bronfein wasn't happy with the software he could buy -- so he's making his own.

A new company -- NeighborWare -- is unveiling a software line today at the San Francisco meeting of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacies, the trade group for pharmacies dealing with managed care.

Sandi Mennerick, administrator of North Arundel Nursing and Convalescent Center, can testify to the potential impact of the new system.

She said three of her staff members -- a registered nurse, a licensed practical nurse and a medical records clerk -- all spend the last week of every month reviewing physician orders line by line, comparing them with medication and treatment record forms and updating patient charts for the next month.

NeighborWare promises to eliminate much of that paperwork. North Arundel, a 133-bed, family-owned nursing home in Glen Burnie, is currently installing NeighborWare's hardware as a test site.

"If it tests well," Ms. Mennerick said, "It would be the best thing since the first time they began to computerize orders."

A doctor visiting a patient, say, at a nursing home such as North Arundel, could write a prescription or treatment order using a touch-screen computer tied into the system.

The computer would warn him if, for example, the patient were taking another medication that could produce an adverse reaction or if the patient's insurer wouldn't cover that particular drug. Such problems generate follow-up calls, Mr. Bronfein said, for about half of the physician orders now faxed to his institutional pharmacies.

After transmitting the physician's order to a pharmacy, the system would continue to monitor it through the time the medication is administered -- an event recorded by a nurse or aide using another touch-screen on her medication cart.

The system would also generate all necessary forms for patient charts, billing, required reports and prescription refills.

Already, NeighborWare has announced agreements with McKesson Health Systems of San Francisco to market NeighborWare to its institutional pharmacy customers, and with two other makers of health management software, AssurQual of Baltimore and Automated HomeCare Systems of Tulsa, Okla.

McKesson Health Systems is a division of McKesson Corp., which had more than $13 billion in sales last year, primarily health and beauty products. AssurQual makes quality management and financial management software.

Automated HomeCare Systems produces software for home infusion therapy -- an important segment of NeighborCare's business.

The managing director and chief operating officer of NeighborWare is Michael L. Russo, a software developer based at the new firm's headquarters in Fountain Valley, Calif. Mr. Bronfein is chairman of NeighborWare as well as of Baltimore-based NeighborCare, a chain of 25 professional and institutional pharmacies that grew from one drugstore 15 years ago. The two privately held firms are separate, Mr. Bronfein said, but they have some investors in common.

As chairman of both companies, "I am my first customer -- and hopefully my best customer," Mr. Bronfein said.

Large institutional pharmacies are the key to developing the software business, according to Mr. Bronfein: "We will market it to the institutional pharmacy and train them to market it to their customers."

The customers of the pharmacies, such as nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, would pay $30,000 to $40,000 for the hardware and a monthly charge based on the number of beds -- about $700 a month for a 100-bed facility. Despite concerns over health costs, the arrangement will be attractive to health facilities, Mr. Bronfein predicted, because they can reduce the amount of staff time devoted to "chasing paper around."

That means, Mr. Bronfein said, a care facility can reduce staff or use that staff for patient care, allowing the facility to "increase the acuity of patients they can handle to improve their revenue stream."

He said the system is "shaped by NeighborCare's vision of the future, and also by discussions with lots of other providers." That vision is of a health care system based on "resource allocation, not reimbursement-driven."

In a report last month, analysts at Alex. Brown & Sons project that the health-care information technology industry will more than double in size by 2000, from about $9 billion a year to $20 billion -- a spurt driven partly by changes in technology and partly by a greater emphasis on managed health care.

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