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Specialty Focused: DSN interviews Walgreens specialty pharmacy group VP


The significant role that specialty pharmacies play in specialty care — from ensuring patients have access to their specific disease state treatment to delivering necessary training and other services around their medication — is something Walgreens Specialty Pharmacy knows well. A key component of its multichannel approach to complex therapy patient care focuses on patients in their communities — with a network of approximately 250 local neighborhood specialty pharmacy locations made up of both Walgreens specialty pharmacies called “Community, A Walgreens Pharmacy” and Walgreens specialty pharmacies in hospitals and medical office buildings. And in an effort to enhance patient care, Walgreens Specialty Pharmacy recently announced a collaboration that will strengthen its specialty pharmacists’ training.

Drug Store News recently spoke with Walgreens Specialty Pharmacy group VP Gerry Gleeson about the company’s approach to specialty and the importance of a focus on patient care and pharmacist education in that space.

DSN: What makes Walgreens Specialty Pharmacy’s approach unique, and what are the different ways it delivers patient care?

Gerry Gleeson: Our model is unique because it’s focused on a multichannel approach. What we mean by that is our specialty business model is anchored and powered at our central fill sites — a lot of our clinical programs, our front end, our intake, our care management, our distribution are anchored by our four central fill pharmacies. In addition, we distribute and deliver specialty care and medications locally into the community, which is what patients want. We hear all the time from patients, providers and pharmacy organizations that being able to deliver specialty care in the community is another great option, in addition to the traditional central fill model.

It’s been a very successful model. We have approximately 250 [of] what we call ‘local specialty pharmacies’ made up of both Walgreens specialty pharmacies called “Community, A Walgreens Pharmacy” and Walgreens specialty pharmacies in hospitals and medical office buildings. These locations have access to not just the broad-based specialty products that are out there in some of the large categories, but also to controlled or limited distribution products from manufacturers. It’s very rare that manufacturers let some of these products out into community pharmacies, and we see now that our model is very attractive to the biopharma community to be able to again deliver complex therapies to patients in the local communities.

DSN: What are the different ways Walgreens reaches specialty patients in their communities through this multichannel approach?

Gleeson: We’ve built out this asset base of 250 local specialty pharmacies, which deliver that care, distribute the products and are able to work one-on-one with patients. And our pharmacists in these community-based sites are trained to be able to deal with a complex specialty patient in a number of therapeutic categories. It’s delivered by a specialized, trained pharmacist who can really work with those patients individually in the community. And that’s, I think, different. It’s a key differentiating factor from a central fill-only model where it’s telephonically based and you miss the one-on-one patient to provider interaction.

Our pharmacies in health systems are very focused on working with the major departments within teaching institutions to focus on training and education, bedside delivery, medication reconciliation and getting those specialty patients a smooth exit out of the institution, and then a very smooth entry into community care. Our health system locations are doing the same thing to serve that specialty therapy patient as our “Community, A Walgreens Pharmacy,” specialty pharmacies, but the entry points and access points are a little different. One of the biggest limitations that you see within the health system is that some times, when patients from all different therapy categories and all different disease states leave a hospital, there is a gap in care and then they’re readmitted for something. An approach like this, especially in high-cost therapy care really does help fill in a lot of the gaps.

DSN: What are some of the ways these locations fill those gaps — what services can a complex therapy patient receive there?

Gleeson: In many cases, there are products that require certain product training — it could be patient injection management, it could be another type of device education. That’s all provided in the high-touch personal specialty model that we have at Walgreens. In addition to that, we do a lot around coordination of insurance claims. Also, a big issue and challenge as you know is helping patients find financial assistance. We do a tremendous amount of work with all different types of organizations, whether it be foundations or manufacturers related to co-pay assistance. We connected our patients across certain disease categories and channels to nearly $200 million of assistance in 2015.

We also have our Connected Care program, which is at the core of our disease management for a number of different therapeutic categories. We are focused on making sure patients are educated and are adherent in a number of key disease states. A managed patient who’s clinically managed by a pharmacist with supporting mechanisms around adherence and treatment regimens does much better in a high-touch managed environment than an unmanaged patient does.

DSN: What changes has the specialty business seen in the past few years, and what are some key takeaways from what you’ve seen happening?

Gleeson: We have grown our local specialty model over the last several years, and it really has accelerated for us. It pivots off of the fact that we continue to see the need to deliver specialty care in the community for the patient, and it is also a real key connection point with providers in the marketplace. That is one of the key differentiators for us. A lot of different provider networks — not just the ones that we work with in the health systems, which are critically important, but those local community providers and specialty doctors — are seeing that our Walgreens pharmacists are building strong relationships with them. The combination and collaboration of a specialty physician working with a specialty pharmacy in the community really develops a close working relationship that can help make a difference in terms of effectively managing a specialty patient. That has been an eye-opener for us — I think we knew that intuitively, but when you put that model in place, you really start to make those collaborative connections. The collaboration Walgreens Specialty Pharmacy has with providers at the community level is really making a difference.

DSN: As you know specialty medications can be expensive — how do Walgreens’ partnerships with PBMs, including the recently announced partnership with Prime Therapeutics, help control specialty costs?

Gleeson: Collaboration is critical in today’s healthcare environment. Our recent announcement further demonstrates how stronger collaborations with PBMs and health plans can help us deliver value, care and service to our patients and partners, while bringing innovative models to the marketplace. The strategic alliance (with Prime Therapeutics) is another way in which we can help pro

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