An agreement with BCE Emergis will allow Loblaw Pharmacies’ 400 outlets to process all drug claims over a central IP network.

The agreement expands BCE’s transport and switching services of drug claims to all pharmacies operating under the Loblaw corporate umbrella in Canada.

It also increases

the number of BCE’s annual drug-claim transactions by five million, bringing its total to 105 million per year.

Under the old BCE-Loblaw contract, BCE served only 200 Loblaw pharmacies using a dial-up system, says Anne-Marie Gagne, spokeswoman for BCE Emergis.

The 400 pharmacies are currently migrating toward the new IP network, says Gagne, adding the process will be completed in the coming months.

“”In terms of performance, (the new system) will be faster and more efficient,””  she says.

“”All the transactions will go through the corporate network of Loblaw, so they’ll have better control over what’s happening in the pharmacies.””

The system will allow Loblaw managers to look at everything from a central vantage point, making it easier to track claims as they are sent to various insurance adjudication authorities.

Warren Shiau, manager of software research at IDC Canada, agrees that under the new system Loblaw will have the potential for “”much better visibility into how each individual pharmacy is doing.””

It will likely enable Loblaw to handle inventory as a system rather than from an individual store basis, he adds.

Relevant to such a network consolidation is the issue of supplier leverage, says Shiau.

“”Instead of buying from a whole bunch of different network service providers, you’re buying from one. It’s just like how the government is driving toward standards.

“”In health care, there are lots of different protocols being used and not all of them can communicate with one another,”” says Shiau. “”So it makes it very hard to perform integration.””

Similarly, an IBM executive at a recent Toronto conference said that a proliferation of new technologies in the pharmaceutical industry is becoming a challenge since global mergers and acquisitions are on the rise.

BCE’s solution is in line with the company’s strategy to provide a universal service that facilitates the electronic validation, authorization and payment of claims, according to Gagne.

While Gagne could not comment specifically on the security of BCE’s solution, she says it’s a critical feature. “”With these types of transactions, there’s always a finance aspect… so you can imagine how important security can be,”” she says.

Shiau says it’s conceivable that Loblaw would use the system to cut down on costs, but cost savings aren’t inevitable.

“”Hypothetically, the stores could have little communication with central management. They could continue (running themselves), so unless there’s management-driven changes to implement inventory systems to take advantage the new capability they’ve got, it’s conceivable that there could be zero payoff,”” he says.

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