Pharmacies look to tech to deliver outcomes efficiently
For pharmacy technology providers, a fundamental mission has become helping retail pharmacies in their urgent quest to complete their evolution from pill counting and basic medication counseling to being fully engaged, frontline patient care providers. That includes supporting the drive by pharmacists to more fully integrate with the collaborative healthcare team now coming into focus.
Costly investments in robotics, central-fill systems and other devices have helped free pharmacists to engage with patients at a higher level of care. Additionally, they offer labor- and cost-saving benefits, as well as higher accuracy and the elimination of common human errors.
But pharmacy technology’s equally important role is now generating, measuring and analyzing prescription data — and sharing that data with other providers in the patient-care network to build a more complete picture and medical history of each patient. The goal, of course, is better treatment outcomes and healthier patients.
“Outcomes-based measures are the next wave of the future,” said Laura Cranston, executive director of the Alexandria, Va.-based Pharmacy Quality Alliance. “Everyone is going to be held accountable and required to take action when they know their performance in the marketplace. And contractually, health plans and PBMs and other payer entities are driving this move to value-based care.”
That shift, in turn, is driving the increasing use and sharing of electronic patient health records, or EHRs — including the reams of prescription use and patient-interaction data generated daily by pharmacies’ software. The goal: to create a fully integrated, team-based health system that connects pharmacists, physicians, hospitals, health plan coordinators and PBMs in an accountable, hub-and-spoke model of care, with the patient at the center.
Thus, pharmacy’s ongoing quest to gain full health provider status for pharmacists — and to fully engage with patients, payers and the emerging team-based system of health care — hinges on its ability to capture, manage and share up-to-date patient health records in real time with other members of the health provider team. It also includes connecting with patients — both in and out of the pharmacy.
From Product to Knowledge
The task currently facing pharmacy is “the transformation from a product industry to a knowledge industry,” according to Mission, Kan.-based ScriptPro president and CEO Mike Coughlin.
“Pharmacy operators who want to participate in this future should begin to view their primary product as knowledge and put systems in place to acquire it, embed it in their organizations and make it available at the right place, at the right time, at the right price and with a plan for how they will be reimbursed for it,” Coughlin said.
With the shift toward value-based reimbursement, integrated technology is becoming more of an imperative, according to Bernie Reese, senior vice president and general manager of San Francisco-based McKesson Pharmacy Systems.
“With today’s healthcare system moving toward a value-based reimbursement approach, integrated technology … becomes more essential,” Reese said. “By leveraging new technologies to execute clinical services at a high level, community retail pharmacies can carve out new, sustained revenue streams and become key stakeholders in value-based healthcare models.”
To that end, McKesson Pharmacy Systems joined forces last year with Rochester, N.Y.-based PharmaSmart, which provides health screening systems and online health management services, to incorporate PharmaSmart patient data into McKesson’s EnterpriseRx pharmacy management system. The result is McKesson’s new Clinical Programs Solution, which Reese said is aimed at helping pharmacies use their pharmacy management system to manage their clinical programs directly. With an increase in the clinical role of pharmacists, leveraging patient data is becoming one of their main roles if they want to stay ahead.
“Integrating comprehensive pharmacy data analytics to track and monitor drug spend and use, patient care and quality is a top priority for health systems,” McKesson noted in a 2017 report on health system pharmacy trends. “Organizations can use this information to make better financial, clinical and operational decisions, and drive improved outcomes. This type of investment can provide meaningful drug-spend analysis, giving pharmacy leaders the evidence they need to successfully establish and track cost-containment initiatives. This also can help to reduce drug spend, decrease manual work hours and improve efficiency so health systems can focus on medication safety and patient care.”
Both retailers and their technology vendors are working to align pharmacists’ patient-care and disease-prevention activities with the overall clinical efforts of hospital systems, physician groups and other health providers. Data sharing and electronic health records are the conduits.
“As pharmacists expand their scope of services and play a more prominent role in the healthcare continuum, their ability to exchange information with primary care providers will … be of vital importance,” noted Healthcare Data Solutions, or HDS, in its report “How Real-Time Data Integration is Changing the Face of Healthcare IT.” “Pharmacists will need the ability to send information about patient immunizations, health screenings, medication compliance and more to the right primary care provider.”
The Mobile Pharmacy Connection
To be sure, the automation and data-mining revolution extends well beyond the pharmacy workspace. It’s something that John Standley, former chairman and CEO of Camp Hill, Pa.-based Rite Aid observed in 2017 before he departed the retailer to lead Vitamin Shoppe.
“Improving digital connectivity between patients and providers is critical to achieving value-based, patient-centered care,” the New York City-based Deloitte Center for Health Solutions reported. “Many healthcare organizations are exploring strategies to leverage technology, including telehealth, to increase consumer engagement and focus on prevention and chronic care management.”
In order to keep up with its connected consumer, Woonsocket, R.I.-based CVS Health is using digital technology to personalize the shopping experience in its CVS Pharmacy stores, according to CVS Pharmacy president Helena Foulkes. “We’ve seen great adoption of our CVS Pharmacy app,” she said.
At its Digital Innovation Lab in Boston, Foulkes said CVS Health “is focused on developing cutting-edge digital services and personalized capabilities that offer an accessible and integrated personal pharmacy and health experience.”
Though discussions about reaching digitally engaged patiens largely focus on younger, tech-savvy one, some retailers are expanding the scope of who they want to reach. Increasingly, older Americans also are embracing mobile technology to connect with their local pharmacy for prescription refills, dosage reminders, online chats with a pharmacist or appointment scheduling.
Walgreens, for instance, has seen its mobile pharmacy app gain a lot of traction with seniors. According to the Deerfield, Ill.- based company, patients age 55 years old and older account for 27% of its mobile app users in general, and 37% of customers use its refill-by-scan feature and other mobile pharmacy tools. They also can use the app to upload prescription insurance eligibility information to the Walgreens pharmacy, schedule appointments at any in-store clinic or connect with a doctor via the online telehealth site MDLive.
“One of the things we repeatedly hear is that customers really value their connections with individual pharmacists and staff,” Walgreens divisional vice president of loyalty Mindy Heintskill. “We wanted to replicate that connection digitally, so customers can get a high-value, personalized experience even when they can’t make it into a store.”
The health and data link
As pharmacists embrace efficiency and chains make moves to engage patients digitally artificial intelligence and predictive analytics continue to make steady inroads. Technology experts assert that healthcare providers can improve outcomes by better utilizing data provided by EHRs, insurance claims and even fitness monitoring. Advocates believe that such tools as IBM Watson Health Cloud, which uses data from multiple sources, can improve outcomes for patients with chronic conditions.
The potential for improving population health has spawned some creative alliances between pharmacy chains and data analytics sources. CVS Health, for instance, is more than two years into a partnership with Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM to help chronic disease sufferers through the deep mining and analysis of their health records. And Walgreens made its Balance Rewards card program available to Menlo Park, Calif.-based MedM’s Health Cloud users.
A data-driven approach also was behind a collaboration between Minnetonka, Minn.-based UnitedHealth Group’s OptumRx and Walgreens. The partnership included goals of leveraging Optum’s massive data repository and improving the companies’ ability to “communicate health data and analytics to ensure members receive the most effective prescription drugs at the right cost.”
Chase Products aims at quality
More than 90 years of “doing things right the first time” tends to pay off.
Just ask officials at the Chase Products Co., the Broadview, Ill.-based manufacturer of private label aerosol items that continues to produce robust sales and profit growth for themselves and their retailer partners as it closes in on the century mark in business.
Chase has long had a strong reputation in the industry as a company that does not cut corners when it comes to manufacturing products. The result has been a steady rise in sales, including double-digit unit and dollar volume growth over the last two years, the highest growth rate in company history.
“One of the reasons for this double-digit growth rate in the last two years was our success with ‘Made in America’ household cleaners to compete with China. We came out with 18 new aerosol products, Chase’s Home Value brand, for the dollar price point,” said Judy Albazi, Chase’s president and CEO. “There are other reasons too, including our great sales team and our consistency in the marketplace. We have some clients that have been with us for 60 years and have no hesitations in marketing products manufactured by our company. That means a lot to us.”
But private label can be a tricky business for manufacturers and retailers alike. While the category tends to pop during difficult economic periods, it can struggle when the economy gets stronger and consumers, especially those searching for quality, are willing to spend more money on the national brand choices. That often leaves retailers wondering just how far they want to go with a private-label or store-brand assortment.
“We know we have to make a statement that our products are just as good as the national brand equivalent,” Albazi said. “Private label is no longer just about having a much better price. Now it is about having a great price and great quality so that consumers will always consider all of the alternatives.”
Retailers, she said, must do their part too, noting that merchants must place the store brand product right next to the national brand equivalent so that consumers understand the price difference and can read the labels of both products.
Established in 1927, Chase Products initially manufactured and distributed insecticides and pesticides. In 1948, it was one of the first three companies granted a license by the Department of Agriculture to provide mosquito abatement solution in pressurized containers to protect American soldiers stationed in jungles overseas.
After that, Chase became the first to manufacture spray paint. Ed Seymour, founder of Seymour of Sycamore, based in Sycamore, Ill., had paint, a prototype spray gun, and a clever idea, and Carl Svendsen, founder of Chase Products, had a manufacturing plant equipped with aerosol filling equipment.
Things moved quickly after that venture. Company officials say that Chase went on to become the first company in the country to develop hair spray and the second to formulate and package spray snow. Other achievements included being the first company to package natural starch in aerosol form and to formulate and manufacture an antiperspirant deodorant in an aerosol can.
In 2011, Chase introduced Champion Sprayon Green World N products, the first full line of Environmental Protection Agency Safer Choice-certified continuous spray Jan-San products. Chase also provides its own national-brand equivalent formulas to wholesalers and retailers across the country and around the world, Albazi says. These products bear the Champion Sprayon name, or carry another of Chase’s nationally-recognized labels such as Champion’s Choice, Green World N, Chase’s Home Value, ProsALL, Kill Zone, Smooth Track, ColorSpray, Decorating Magic, or Santa.
All told, Chase manufactures and distributes around 600 SKUs at its factory in Broadview. Along with a distribution center in nearby LaGrange, Ill., the company operates more than 200,000 square feet of production/distribution space and employs about 100 workers. The product lines are for such categories as aerosol household products, spray paints, insecticides, automotive and bench sprays, personal care, and craft products. The company partners with more than 50 different retailers, ranging in size from single shops and small merchants to some of the largest retailers in the country, said Albazi, who has been with Chase Products for 43 years.
“I think what really got us on the right track was back in the 1980s when generic products started to become such a big deal and many were just terrible,” Albazi noted. “We came on the scene with products with national-brand equivalent quality and at a lower cost to the shopper. We were squarely positioned between the generics and the national brands and it gave consumers a legitimate choice to pick from.”
The future looks bright for the company, particularly as more retailers, and consumers, look for American-made products. “We think that a lot of consumers are searching for American-made merchandise and we are right in step with that philosophy,” Albazi added. “All of our raw materials are from the United States and that helps us a lot. Plus the new line of dollar store aerosols shows the industry our ability to innovate.”
So what is the goal? “We just want to get bigger as a company and better as a marketer and manufacturer,” Albazi said. “Over the years, we have done all we could to make this a great company and a company that every employee here can be proud of. And, we have done all we could to help our retail partners make more profit and build a better image with their customers. We are proud of what we have become.”