New, free network sends drug alerts to U.S. docs via email

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The Health Care Notification Network (HCNN), a network to deliver drug safety alerts online to U.S. physicians, was launched Tuesday, replacing a widely criticized and decades-old paper- and mail-based system.

HCNN is the result of a three-year effort and collaboration between U.S. medical society leaders, liability carriers, health plans, consumer advocacy groups, government leaders and industry, including major pharmaceutical manufacturers. The HCNN will also be available for rapid communication with physicians in the event of emergency public health or bio-terror events, according to iHealth Alliance, a not-for-profit organization governing the new HCNN service.

The network is free to all licensed U.S. physicians, and is used solely for patient safety alerts, not for advertising or promotion, to ensure rapid and effective delivery of important alerts to physicians, iHealth Alliance said.

“Relying on paper-based U.S. mail and weeks of delay to deliver time-urgent patient safety alerts to doctors in 2008 is indefensible and unsafe," explained Nancy Dickey, MD, chair of the iHealth Alliance. "After a few years of work with the FDA and many other partners, we are finally moving from the paper age into the internet age in terms of patient safety alerts."

The iHealth Alliance credits FDA leadership for making the HCNN, and immediate online patient safety alerts for physicians, a reality, as the agency recently updated its guidance for the pharmaceutical and device industry, and now actively encourages the use of online networks for patient safety alerts.

"Letters to healthcare providers often are screened by one or more ‘gatekeepers’ and may not reach the intended recipients-the providers who need the drug information for treating patients," explained Janet Woodcock, MD, deputy commissioner for Scientific and Medical Programs, chief medical officer, and acting director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, FDA. "Gatekeepers often discard these important paper-based alerts as ‘junk mail’."

Jack Lewin, MD, CEO of the American College of Cardiology, said that rapid delivery of drug safety information is critical to provide high quality care to patients based on the latest data. "By taking advantage of this network, we can streamline care and save costs,” Lewin said.

Manufacturers, led by Johnson & Johnson and the pharmaceutical industry group PhRMA, have lent their support and leadership to the HCNN, which is devoted exclusively to communicating urgent patient safety alerts to physicians—it includes no advertising.

The HCNN is funded by manufacturers that use the new online network and currently pay for U.S. mail delivery of paper-based alerts, iHealth Alliance said.

Also joining the HCNN effort is the America’s Health Insurance Plans trade group, as well as numerous health plans including Aetna and Health Care Service, the parent company of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas, Illinois, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Registration for U.S. physicians is available at