By Robert J. Dudzinski, Pharm.D., Executive Vice President, West Corporation
Healthcare reform is opening up unprecedented opportunities for pharmacists to take a much more empowered role in provisioning care. In fact, pharmacists today are no longer simply dispensing drugs—they are becoming providers.
This expanding role stems from the need to engage patients for better care management. Today’s healthcare organizations recognize that their success in a value-based care environment depends largely on getting patients more engaged in managing their own health and care. Here lies the heart of the opportunity for the pharmacist to become an essential provider in the care continuum.
Retail Pharmacists’ Unique Position in the Care Continuum
Making sure that a patient is engaged with and sticks to the prescribed care plan requires multiple touchpoints between the patient and providers—and of all healthcare providers, the one with the most touchpoints is the pharmacist. A pharmacist engages a patient multiple times in the course of a month (at the time of the refill request, the refill reminder, at the time of pickup and so forth). In fact, a patient may see a pharmacist six times more often on a monthly basis than a primary care provider.
Not only do pharmacists have multiple touchpoints with patients, but they also occupy a unique position in the healthcare continuum. They bridge the gap between patients’ healthcare experience and their everyday consumer experience. Reform has injected consumerism into the healthcare space, and pharmacy is where consumerism collides with the clinical. Pharmacists interact with the consumer on the retail side, and the consumer looks to them for some level of care. Those who can execute a consumer-focused strategy can connect best with patients and help them change their behaviors for a better outcome.
The place where medication is dispensed is a natural place for care to be delivered. After all, the foundational success of much care—whether routine, transitional or chronic—lies in medication. If pharmacists make effective use of touchpoints to engage patients, to ensure they take their medication appropriately and receive other important care, the industry as a whole will see better outcomes.
Scaling Pharmacists’ Role to Drive Better Outcomes
Pharmacists’ transition into a provider persona and their increasing role in engaging patients brings new challenges to the retail pharmacy industry. Pharmacy has historically engaged large populations but will now have to do so in greater numbers and with greater frequency. This means that pharmacists will face the same questions as other providers seeking to manage populations: How can we engage patients appropriately, effectively, and in a scalable manner? How can we spend the time we need with patients, grapple with quality and cost, and still succeed?
The traditional answer to such questions is to add more staff. However, today’s healthcare organizations recognize that adding personnel isn’t a scalable solution. There simply isn’t enough time in the day or clinicians on the payroll to do it all. Instead, pharmacists need the right tools to help them engage patients. They need automation to effectively carry out their new role as a critical touchpoint in the patient’s care path.
For many years now, pharmacy has recognized and embraced a level of automation and engagement. Pharmacies send out refill and order-ready reminders. In other words, pharmacies have been good about using automation to drive transactions. However, transactions are just the tip of where a successful engagement begins. Pharmacy now has the opportunity to use automation to do much more: to create relationships and drive behaviors that lead to better outcomes.
Automating Patient Engagement
The next wave in automation involves using the channels preferred by the customer (calls, texts or emails) to regularly engage patients, to keep them on a prescribed path and to identify those at the highest risk. Appointment reminders, wellness coaching, diabetes education, dosage reminders—all of these patient-friendly reminders help drive adherence, revenue, and efficiency. Other automated communications can identify patients who are out of compliance and then reconnect them immediately with a pharmacist.
With such a system in place, pharmacists can focus their attention on the highest-risk patients. They can spend more time on the phone or in person with patients and less time making phone calls, leaving voicemails, and playing phone tag. In other words, automation maximizes the pharmacist’s ability to provision care, introducing efficiency while maintaining the right level of human touch for patients who need it.
In the competitive landscape of pharmacy, this level of service can make all the difference. Building a better relationship with the patient through convenient touchpoints in the patient’s channel of choice drives loyalty and adherence. When that happens, the patient is more likely to keep coming back and to stay committed to the care path supported by the pharmacist. Enhancing the patient and consumer experience in that way is a competitive weapon—and incredibly important for healthcare collectively.
Robert J. Dudzinski, Ph.D., is executive vice president for West Corporation. Dr. Dudzinski received his doctorate in pharmacy from the University of Nebraska Medical Center and has extensive experience in pharmacy benefit management, mail order pharmacy, home care, management information systems and related industries spanning a 20-year period. Dr. Dudzinski leads the Healthcare practice at West Corporation.
This article originally appeared on Pharmacy Learning Network: http://www.pharmacylearningnetwork.com/blogs/pln/robert-dudzinski/april-14-2016/pharmacist-provider-retail-meets-clinical