Surescripts make it difficult for Amazon PillPack to access patient data

A pharmacist counts prescription drugs at CenterTown Pharmacy in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, June 12, 2019.

Chris Wattie | REUTERS

As Amazon enters the pharmacy market after purchasing online pharmacy PillPack in the summer of 2018, its potential competitors are not making it easy.

Surescripts, a company that manages electronic prescriptions, said this week it is ending its relationship with ReMy Health in connection with a dispute over patient data. This move has serious implications for Amazon-owned PillPack, which had an agreement with ReMy that allowed it to access patient medication history collected by Surescripts.

Now, PillPack officially has no clear way to access this data automatically and must call the patient or their doctor. It's a very manual process that can lead to errors, PillPack said, as patients who take multiple medications often forget what medications and doses they have been prescribed.

Surescripts said that it conducted a survey of ReMy Health and found problems with the service, leading to it terminating the contract. It has also previously stated that it was "transferring the case to the FBI for further investigation."

Surescripts reported it did not find clear evidence of a privacy breach, but it said it found other issues:

"Surescripts has uncovered evidence that the fraud in ReMy Health's patient data requests was not limited to patient medication information, "said company CEO Tom Skelton, in an email to customers shared with CNBC. "This evidence shows that the scam was extended to requests for patient health insurance and prescription information provided by ReMy Health to drug marketing websites."

Skelton said that the volume of activity "was very small," but it took the step to maintain "the integrity of the network."

Surescripts is owned by a group of potential PillPack competitors, including CVS and ExpressScripts, and manages about 80% of all US prescriptions. In April, the Federal Trade Commission sued the company, alleging "unlawful monopolization of e-prescription markets."

ReMy's CEO told CNBC that the allegations are unfounded and that it acted in accordance with its agreement with Surescripts.

"We have never provided data from the Surescripts network to pharmaceutical companies for marketing purposes," said ReMy CEO Aaron Crittenden, adding that the company's goal of making health care more affordable "should not be a threatening proposition for anyone."

In a statement, PillPack said that Surescripts' actions will have an impact on the business, as it has limited methods for obtaining patient medication history information.

"PillPack is hopeful that we can work directly with Surescripts, the only commercial clearinghouse for comprehensive drug history in the United States," spokeswoman Jacquelyn Miller said. Miller added that her company noted that a Surescripts executive acknowledged in an interview with Politico Pro that a "patient's memory is sometimes wrong," and she said PIllPack agreed with that sentiment.

"[We] hopes that Surescripts wants patients and their pharmacies to have the most accurate information available to improve patient care. , "she said.

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