Technology Considerations in Specialty Pharmacy

Published - Written by Molly C. Gombos, PharmD, MPBA

Technology, analytics, and big data have become more and more prevalent in daily business operations and decision-making. Today, there are many industries in which competing without using these elements is quickly becoming impossible. In many ways, specialty pharmacy is no different – those pharmacies using effective technologies and relying more closely on data to drive the business are more likely to succeed.

However, there are many factors to consider before jumping in.

First, all technological advancements must empower pharmacists to work at the top of their license and provide exemplary patient care. Technology should never replace the pharmacist’s role or any patient interventions or counseling experiences, for that matter. New technology, innovations, and data must augment and enhance these interactions, allowing for more specific and meaningful moments for patients. Additionally, using new data and the accompanying technology in the specialty pharmacy space can help with consistency by allowing pharmacists and pharmacy teams to track previous patient interventions, store higher volumes of patient data, etc. – all of which are very important, basic requirements for many innovations. Technology can also help streamline many of the administrative needs for specialty pharmacies, such as tracking scheduling for patient interventions, and the day-to-day tasks and workflow pieces.

Keeping this in mind, specialty pharmacies looking to implement new technologies must always ensure that the advancements are working to solve genuine problems. Introducing new technologies just for the sake of doing so will not improve the pharmacy’s performance and may create new burdens for staff, leading to disengagement and frustrations. Similarly, technology in the pharmacy mustn’t cause friction. All implementations should support the specialty pharmacist in their daily work and/or improve the patient care capabilities of the pharmacy. The end-user of the systems, the pharmacy team members, must be able to recognize the added value that the technology brings to their work, and this value must be recognized very early after implementation to ensure immediate “buy-in” by the pharmacy staff. Like any change, if the stakeholders can see the value early and understand why the change is essentialand relevant to meeting one’s goals, there will be a much higher likelihood that the technologies will be used to their fullest extent. This will then allow for the greatest return on investment for specialty pharmacy owners. When planning for new technology, pharmacy ownership/management should identify their key performance indicators and set clear goals for the project.

 When considering what type of innovations should be made, pharmacy owners should understand that current specialty pharmacy systems tend to be too transactional and are not focused enough on clinical interventions. Most of today’s systems are concentrated on storing historical patient and prescription information as well as successfully adjudicating claims. Although these uses are certainly relevant and essential to operating a specialty pharmacy, there are so many additional use cases for new technologies that can go above and beyond the essentials to enhance the pharmacy’s performance and significantly grow the business. The primary goal of new technologies should be to create new opportunities for patient touchpoints that can be both specific and customized. To do so, specialty pharmacies will likely need to be able to capture and store a significant amount of new data. This data may include additional patient data points outside of the standard collected and stored patient demographic and insurance information.

Additional patient data points may include:

  • historical and current adherence information,
  • patient disease state information,
  • specific symptoms,
  • adverse effects experienced,
  • therapeutic change data, and
  • patient cost tolerance information.

By using these new data points, as well as the accompanying technology, specialty pharmacies may be able to identify patients who are at the highest risk of nonadherence, adverse events, and more. As pharmacies begin to implement these predictive analytics measures successfully, they can even move into advanced analytics practices that may be able to identify even greater areas for pharmacies to impact. The opportunities for technology and analytics in specialty pharmacy, like most industries, are endless. The key to capitalizing on such opportunities is to focus the advancements on solving real problems while supporting pharmacists in their already impactful work and making meaningful improvements in patient care.

About the Author

Molly Gombos earned her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 2014 and her Master of Pharmacy Business Administration (MPBA) in 2021 from the University of Pittsburgh, a 12-month, executive-style graduate education program designed for working professionals striving to be tomorrow’s leaders in the business of medicines. Molly has spent the last 7 years working in community pharmacy, initially as a pharmacist and pharmacy manager and most recently working in pharmacy operations. Her current role is working in the patient safety and clinical space with a focus on clinical decision support.

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