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Six-second verification: McKesson's PCS gets near-instant turnaround.


In and out in under six seconds.

That has been the total connection time goal for Pharmaceutical Card System (PCS), which verifies millions of insured prescription transactions each month with an on-line system to pharmacies all over the country.

New modems have virtually halved the previous setup time average, says Ron Merlino, manager of data communications at the Scotts-dale, Ariz-based subsidiary of McKesson Pharmaceutical.

Six-Second Barrier

"We needed to break that six-second barrier. That's been the whole drift of it. Now we're starting to. I'd say we're down to an average of about seven seconds," says Merlino.

PCS uses Telenetics TC921 "fast-connect" modems, custom-designed 24000 b/s models that handle its data at 1200 b/s. That speed is with PCS' own point of sale (POS) terminal on the other end. With other gear, such as a pharmacy's personal computer, the speed coming in usually falls.

PCS phased in the TC921s, replacing another vendor's slower-connecting models, early this year.

The new moderns can set up a connection in as little as three seconds, with transaction time as short as two seconds. That lets PCS handle more calls with fewer lines and less equipment.

Here's how the PCS operation works: A pharmacist filling a prescription swipes the customer's PCS card through a POS terminal, just like retailers' credit card verification, or enters card data via a personal computer. He also enters the pharmacy's code and prescription data.

The call comes in over AT&T Megacom 800 service T1 lines, and PCS' Tandem Cyclone superprocessors goes to work.

Busy Five Seconds

In the four to five seconds of connection and processing, the Tandem does up to 57 edits, checking eligibility, drug interactions, and other data.

"The first thing it does is adjudicate the claim: make sure this person is eligible," says Merlino.

"Then it goes after the coverage. Every group has different coverage, different co-pay arrangements. If a drug is being prescribed that has potential incompatibilities with other drugs, that is flagged. We've got all the drugs and their interactions on the database.

"t also tells how much the individual has left on a deductible. We send that message back to the pharmacy and it's displayed on their terminal how much to charge and if the person is eligible for that coverage. Our normal transaction is about 204 bytes in per claim, and probably 89 going back to the point of sale terminal or PC."

Some 47,000 pharmacies transmit to PCS using its POS terminals. There are also leased lines to data centers of major pharmacy chains, whose stores send prescription data there first.

Merlino says 5.5 million calls a month come in from POS terminals and PCS on T1 lines, with another three million transactions over leased lines. Peak rates are 41,000 transactions per hour.

Speed Benefits

Quicker connections have allowed PCS to reduce the number of modems and could enable the company to cut back on its T1s. Instead, PCS may save that the spare capacity for growth and backup.

PCS encourages pharmacies to use its POS terminal, because that means faster, more reliable transmission at the Scottdale end. But pharmacies have lots of other choices.

"When we distribute our point of sale device we guarantee compatibility. That's under our control," says Merlino. "As pharmacy systems have proliferated, everyone out there is writing one. There are 150-some vendors developing communications software for pharmacies. They all implement the protocol differently.

"Twelve hundred bits per second is our standard. But we autobaud with anywhere from 300 to 1200."

PCS updates its eligibility database of several million subscribers nightly, with an IBM backed system, via file transfer.

PCS still does some of its 10 million monthly transactions on paper, but does have been reduced to a fraction of their former volume.

PCS manages the modem network with Telenetics' Net-windows system.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Nelson Publishing
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Title Annotation:pharmaceutical card system, includes related article 'touchtone assistance'
Author:Tanzillo, Kevin
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jun 1, 1990
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