Upending challenges to patient-facing care

David Orgel
Principal, David Orgel Consulting

Community-based pharmacy needs to focus on a wide angle view of patient needs to further enhance its success with patient-facing care. 

That was the perspective of industry leaders who spoke during an executive panel at the Drug Store News Industry Issues Summit in New York City in December. The panel was called Enabling Patient-Facing Care.

Executives said success requires focusing on patients’ full healthcare journeys, providing navigational support, emphasizing the importance of personalization over a one-size-fits-all approach, and targeting technology to address needs.

“Patients need an advocate throughout their entire healthcare journey for help with everything from finding financial support, to identifying a physician, to understanding their medications,” said panelist Rina Shah, group vice president of specialty and retail pharmacy operations at Walgreens. “It’s their local community pharmacist that patients can rely on to help them navigate their healthcare experience. And it’s not only the patient that pharmacists support, it’s also the caregiver, because it’s the caregiver helping patients throughout their journey.”

Fellow panelist Dain Rusk, vice president of pharmacy at Publix Super Markets, emphasized the importance of personalized pharmacy strategies.

“It’s now more about personalization for patients,” he said. “From our standpoint, it’s really about investing in technology, where we’re more digitally engaged with that customer. That means allowing them to transact with us, whether it be partnering with health systems, where you have the opportunity to provide a telehealth experience, or investing in technology, where they can transact online and pay for that prescription and enable us to drive innovation.”  

Addressing full set of patient needs

Panel moderator Chris Dimos, president of retail solutions at McKesson, asked participants to identify unmet patient needs. In response, panelists underscored the importance of providing connections, communications and personalization. 

“When a patient is seeing multiple providers, there needs to be a stronger connection of care across providers,” said Todd Treon, e-commerce and digital marketing healthcare leader at Cardinal Health. “This means connections from the community pharmacist to the primary care physician and, for chronic care patients, it could also include a pulmonologist and cardiologist. Even though some progress is being made, improving communication and collaboration across providers would help improve patient outcomes and reduce the cost of health care.”

Panelist Ryan Rumbarger, senior vice president of retail store operations at CVS Pharmacy, emphasized the need to personalize communications.

“We have an opportunity to personalize communications a lot more effectively,” he said. “Take the patient to whom we’ve sent multiple patient care offers via text message, but who has never responded to text messaging. If we know that the same patient responds positively when presented with a similar offer at the point of sale, we shouldn’t text that person anymore. We need to take what we know about the patient, find the optimal offer for their health care and send it through their preferred channel.”

Finding the right combination between technology and human solutions will become an important differentiator for companies, said panelist Nimesh Jhaveri, president of Health Mart and senior vice president at McKesson. 

“I think patients are looking for help from us as providers to say, ‘Here’s what’s right for you,”’ he said. “And then, when you have questions that technology can’t answer, here’s a human that can help you. The folks that figure out the best combination between a human intervention and a technology intervention, the right way for the right patient, will ultimately win.”

Dimos said the panel’s responses reflect the importance of taking a wide view of patient needs. “What I heard is that we have to consider the patient in their entirety,” he said. “They’re not just a prescription. They are patients that have not only insurance needs, but navigation needs, with caregivers that are surrounding that patient.”

Making health care relevant across generations

Executives said that community pharmacy has to adapt healthcare strategies for different generations of customers. Not surprisingly, younger generations are the most likely to embrace digital technologies, said panelist Matthew Johnson, CEO and co-founder of technology provider Amplicare.

“Younger generations are profoundly influenced by digital connectivity,” he said. “Three out of four of them would pick a provider based on whether they have an app that includes more than one aspect of the engagement.”

He pointed to one doctor finding app, Zocdoc. “It’s similar to the Lyfts and Ubers of the world that have not only spoiled us, but also have changed our expectations for more convenience, more transparency, more control, more so than ever before,” he said.

Panelist Doyle Jensen, executive vice president of global business development at Innovation, said relevance is highly important in reaching different customer bases. He also said that his 15-year-old daughter uses the increasingly popular social networking app TikTok, a video-sharing platform that many older consumers likely are not familiar with. 

“That’s why I say that relevance to each person comes first,” he said “What you have to provide is something that’s really relevant to them at that point in time and for what they’re experiencing. So in health care, it’s about what the condition state is, and then provide a value based off of that.”

Panelist Ian Fallon, vice president of business development at McKesson Prescription Technology Solutions, said providing transparency to patients, including costs and payments, is highly important. He said it’s also essential to “flip the default” to improve patient adherence. 

“Today you get a prescription, and it gets sent over to the pharmacy, and you have to actively go to the pharmacy to pick it up. So the default is nonadherence. I have to do something to go and get it,” he said. “So how do we flip that default? How do we get things to patients in a way that they want it automatically? That makes adherence — not nonadherence — the default.”

Panelists agreed that technology holds great promise for pharmacy and health care, but they also said it needs to be monitored to ensure customer-facing technology interactions make sense.

“It’s got to make sense,” said panelist Jeff Key, president of PioneerRx, who also said that technology-based communications quickly can become turnoffs if they lack relevance. “We have to double train our staffs not to let technology become a crutch in what we’re doing,” he said. “And we have to figure out with the technology creators how to do this.”

Freeing up pharmacists to excel

Speakers at the summit said enhanced patient engagement is only possible if pharmacists are freed up to interact. Some speakers cited automation efforts that pull production out of stores in order to give pharmacists more bandwidth for patient engagement. These efforts leverage technologies, ranging from artificial intelligence to machine learning. The upshot is that pharmacists gain more one-on-one time with patients.

“One of the things we focus on — and I think a lot of us focus on — is giving the pharmacist time to get out and be very patient-centric,” said panelist Frank Starn, CEO of PerceptiMed. “We need to allow pharmacists time to have those meaningful discussions and learn about a patient’s concerns and worries, but also their hopes. That’s all part of that very personal healthcare journey that is unique to each patient.”

CVS Pharmacy’s Rumbarger said his company is working hard to “really empower our teams to put the task aside and focus 100% of their attention on the customer in front of them. That means empowering them to develop that relationship, because you have to know somebody to understand what they need and to earn the right or the privilege to offer them the right solution.”

One key panel takeaway is the importance of balancing both technology and human interactions for best patient outcomes. 

It was a point emphasized by PerceptiMed’s Starn, who directly addressed how technology and human intervention need to be balanced. 

“Technology can dramatically improve patient safety — from flagging drug interactions to preventing wrong prescriptions getting distributed to patients,” he said. “Technology can also be a tremendous enabler and create opportunities for personal interactions,” he said about relationships with patients. “So it’s about taking an interest and bringing empathy to every counseling opportunity. Taking the time to really understand that journey and, in doing so, support and guide patients.”

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