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SYSTEM AND METHODS FOR PROVIDING
MEDICATION SELECTION GUIDANCE
CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED
 This application is a divisional of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/319,797 filed Dec. 28, 2005, entitled "System and Methods for Providing Medication Selection Guidance" (Attorney Docket No. CRNI.l 17423) and claims priority to commonly owned U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/640,028, filed Dec. 29, 2004, of which each application is assigned or under obligation of assignment to the same entity application and both of which are incorporated in this application by reference.
STATEMENT REGARDING FEDERALLY
SPONSORED RESEARCH OR DEVELOPMENT
 Not Applicable.
 The present invention relates generally to the field of computer software. More particularly, the present invention relates to a computerized system and methods for providing guidance of medication selection.
 Clinicians have traditionally made decisions regarding which medication to prescribe for a patient's health condition or illness based on medication information that they have memorized or can quickly look up in a reference guide. The clinician may have learned about a given kind of medication (as an example, a specific anti-inflammatory) from a medical journal, advertisement, educational lecture, or other means. However, clinicians rarely have the time or resources to compare a specific medication with all other medications that provide a similar therapeutic effect and have an acceptable level of efficacy. It may be that medications other than the medication chosen by the clinician can provide the therapeutic benefit that the clinician had intended while better meeting a particular patient's needs. For instance, the chosen medication may not be covered by the patient's healthcare insurance plan, or may otherwise require a high out-of-pocket cost to the patient as compared to other medications that could provide the same therapeutic effect for the patient. The clinician's chosen medication may also have other disadvantages that make proper compliance with the prescription administering difficult. As one example, the chosen medication may have to be dispensed to a patient multiple times a day, whereas a patient would prefer a once-a-day dose. The chosen medication may also be documented to have caused unwanted side effects in a large segment of the population that have taken the medication. In these situations, other medications may be more appropriate to address the specific health condition of the patient.
 A solution is needed for providing additional options and guidance in medication selection for a patient that is more tailored to the needs of the particular patient.
 A system and associated methods provide medication selection guidance at the time of a prescription event for a given patient, or at other times, such as when changes occur in the patient's healthcare plan coverage. In one aspect of the invention, a medication selection guidance method for a prescribing event is employed. According to this method, infor
mation is received regarding a clinician-preferred medication prescription related to a selected patient, and based on at least one record of the selected patient, a specific information set is retrieved. For instance, the specific information set may include medications the patient is currently taken, healthcare plan coverage for the patient, or other types of information. Then, other medications that can be prescribed to the patient as alternatives to the clinician-preferred medication prescription may be determined based on the specific information set. Optionally, an evaluation may be conducted for the alternative medications against the patient's healthcare plan coverage to present available medication options and associated out-of-pocket costs to the patient in a report.  Another aspect of the invention includes a method that provides guidance in the selection of medication for a patient. According to the method, information is receive regarding at least one first medication, and based on at least one record of the selected patient, a specific information set is retrieved that includes healthcare plan formulary coverage information for the patient associated with a pricing schedule. Then, therapeutic equivalent medications to the at least one first medication are determined based on the healthcare plan formulary coverage information. The therapeutic equivalent medications include medications that can be administered to the patient as alternatives to the at least one first medication and which are included in the healthcare plan formulary coverage information. The therapeutic equivalent medications may be displayed along with information regarding how the therapeutic equivalent medications fit into the associated pricing schedule of the healthcare plan formulary coverage information.
 In still another aspect of the invention, a method is employed for providing guidance in the selection of medication for a patient. According to the method, information is received regarding a prescribing event surrounding at least one first medication, and based on at least one record of the selected patient, a specific information set is retrieved that includes medications the specific patient is currently taking. A drug-drug interaction analysis is performed based on the at least one first medication and current medications taken by the specific patient. If a drug-drug interaction match is found between the at least one first medication and any of the currently taken medications, then medications are located that would be therapeutic equivalent medications to at least one of the currently taken medications and the at least one first medication involved in the match.
 Provided in another aspect of the invention is a method for auditing patient medication costs in response to changes in healthcare plan coverage for the patient. According to the method, information is received regarding changes in the healthcare plan of the patient. More specifically, the information involves a medication formulary coverage scheme of the healthcare plan. Based on at least one record of the patient, a specific information set is retrieved that includes medications the patient is currently taking. Finally, based at least on the information received regarding a change in the healthcare plan of the patient, the cost for medications the patient is currently taking is determined utilizing the healthcare plan medication formulary coverage scheme.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL
VIEWS OF THE DRAWING
 In the accompanying drawings which form a part of the specification and are to be read in conjunction therewith
and in which like reference numerals are used to indicate like elements in the various views:
 FIG. 1 is a block diagram of an exemplary computing system suitable for use in implementing the present invention;
 FIG. 2 is a block diagram of one embodiment of a set of component modules of the present invention illustrating the functional relationship between the modules;  FIG. 3 is an exemplary report generated by the component modules presenting the results of a medication selection guidance session;
 FIG. 4 is a flow diagram of one method for guiding medication selection surrounding a prescribing event;  FIG. 5 is a flow diagram of another method for guiding medication selection for a particular patient; and  FIG. 6 is a flow diagram of a method for guiding medication selection by auditing patient medication costs in response to changes in healthcare plan coverage for the patient.
 Systems and methods of the present invention provide improved efficiencies in guiding medication selection for a given patient by a clinician. For instance, various embodiments are provided for determining patient costs for various medication prescription options that may provide a desired therapeutic effect for the patient. Other embodiments facilitate the auditing of patient medication costs in response to changes in healthcare plan coverage for the patient. These and other features of the present invention may be further understood from the below description.
General Computing System Environment
 FIG. 1 illustrates an example of a suitable computing system environment in which the invention may be implemented. The computing system environment is only one example of a suitable computing environment and is not intended to suggest any limitation as to the scope of use or functionality of the invention. Neither should the computing system environment be interpreted as having any dependency or requirement to any one or combination of components illustrated in the exemplary operating environment.  The present invention is operational with numerous other general purpose or special purpose computing system environments or configurations. Examples of well known computing systems, environments, and/or configurations that may be suitable for use with the invention include, but are not limited to, personal computers, server computers, hand-held or laptop devices, cellular telephones, portable wireless devices, multiprocessor systems, microprocessor-based systems, programmable consumer electronics, network PCs, minicomputers, mainframe computers, distributed computing environments that include any of the above systems or devices, and the like.
 The present invention may be described in the general context of computer-executable instructions, such as program modules, being executed by a computer. Generally, program modules include routines, programs, objects, components, data structures, etc. that perform particular tasks or implement particular abstract data types. The invention may also be practiced in distributed computing environments where tasks are performed by remote processing devices that are linked through a communications network. In a distrib
uted computing environment, program modules may be located in both local and remote computer storage media including memory storage devices.
 With reference to FIG. 1, an exemplary system for implementing the invention includes a general purpose computing device in the form of a computer system 100. System 100 serves at least in part as a general medical information system. Components of system 100 include, but are not limited to, a processing unit 101, a system memory 102, and a system bus 111 that couples various system components including the system memory 102 to the processing unit 101. The system bus 111 may be any of several types of bus structures including a memory bus or memory controller, a peripheral bus and a local bus using any of a variety of bus architecture. By way of example, and not limitation, such architectures include Industry Standard Architecture (ISA) bus, Micro Channel Architecture (MCA) bus, Enhanced ISA (EISA) bus, Video Electronics Standard Association (VESA) local bus, and Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) bus also known as Mezzanine bus.
 System 100 typically includes a variety of computer readable media. Computer readable media can be any available media that can be accessed by system 100 and includes both volatile and nonvolatile media, removable and non-removable media. By way of example, and not limitation, computer readable media may comprise computer storage media and communication media. Computer storage media includes both volatile and nonvolatile, removable and non-removable media implemented in any method or technology for storage of information such as computer readable instructions, data structures, program modules or other data. Computer storage media includes, but is mot limited to, RAM, ROM, EEPROM, flash memory or other memory technology, CD-ROM, digital versatile disks (DVD) or other optical disk storage, magnetic cassettes, magnetic tape, magnetic disk storage or other magnetic storage devices, or any other medium which can be used to store the desired information and which can be accessed by system 100. Communications media typically embodies computer readable instructions, data structures, program modules or other data in a modulated data signal such as a carrier wave or other transport mechanism and includes any information delivery media. The term "modulated data signal" means a signal that has on or more of its characteristics set or changed in such a manner as to encode information in the signal. By way of example, and not limitation, communication media includes wired media such as a wired network or direct wired connection, and wireless media such as acoustic, radio frequency (RF), infrared and other wireless media. Combinations of any of the above should also be included within the scope of computer readable media.  The system memory 102 includes computer storage media in the form of a volatile and/or nonvolatile memory such as read only memory (ROM) 103 and random access memory (RAM) 105. A basic input/output system (BIOS) 104, containing the basic routines that help to transfer information between elements within system 100, such as during start-up, s typically stored in ROM 103. RAM 105 typically contains data and/or program modules that are immediately accessible to and/or presently being operated on by processing unit 101. By way of example, and not limitation, FIG. 1 illustrates operating system 106, application programs 107, other program modules 108, and program data 109.  The system 100 may also include other removable/ nonremovable, volatile/nonvolatile computer storage media.