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Three pharmacy trends impacting hospitals’ and health systems’ bottom lines

By Angela Perrie, SVP and general manager of Health System and Provider Distribution & Services at Cardinal Health

Hospitals and healthcare workers play a vital role in keeping their communities healthy, and while they have experienced significant hurdles over the past few years, they have continually risen to the occasion. Some of these obstacles have increased in intensity, presenting challenges and opportunities for health systems.

In honor of this year’s National Hospital Week (May 12-18), I’m pleased to share industry insights – and highlight how Cardinal Health is helping our health system customers meet today’s challenges so they can continue to deliver the highest-quality patient care.

As a crucial link between the clinical and logistical aspects of healthcare delivery, Cardinal Health has a unique and holistic view of the trends affecting health systems across the country and this enables us to develop new ways to address those trends. Here are three trends to watch that we see affecting health systems and hospitals today and the innovative solutions we’re bringing to our customers to help them thrive and care for their patients.  

Trend #1: Pharmacy labor shortages continue to be a challenge for all settings, especially for hospitals

Having a high-performing pharmacy is essential to achieving a hospital's overall financial performance and to supporting patient safety and improved outcomes. Based on our experience, we’ve seen inpatient pharmacies account for as much as 20% of a hospital’s operating budget.

However, hospital pharmacists are facing increasing demands, including expanded medication adherence responsibilities, implementing clinical cost savings initiatives and overseeing stewardship programs. All of these can lead to burnout as well as decreased hospital pharmacy performance. In addition, the current labor shortage of pharmacy technicians can result in pharmacists having to take on technicians’ tasks, too, which takes time away from patient care and clinical initiatives.

My team has found ways to help hospital pharmacies overcome these staffing challenges, infusing pharmacy teams with the resources and support they need to absorb their expanding roles. One way we do this is through our outsourcing solution, in which we provide experts, tools and resources – such as an experienced team of pharmacists and experts in clinical, regulatory and operational areas – who help pharmacies achieve and sustain their strategic priorities.

Additionally, our remote pharmacy staffing model supplements on-site pharmacy teams with off-site pharmacists and technicians. With ongoing staffing shortages, this remote model helps maintain and expand a pharmacy’s service levels and offset staffing constraints.

At a time when pharmacist burnout and turnover is high, pharmacy outsourcing and remote pharmacy models can help retain high-value, experienced pharmacists. In addition, the resources that come with these models can free up pharmacy staff to spend more time focusing on the patient, rather than being constrained by the demands of day-to-day pharmacy operations.

Trend #2: Health systems are expanding specialty pharmacies to extend care to critically ill patients yet face operational hurdles

Expensive, specialty medications are putting pressure on pharmacy drug budgets. The cost of those medications is putting pressure on patients, too. In fact, almost 40% of patients today, across all care settings, choose to postpone or forego treatment due to the cost of care, according to a Gallup poll.

Expanding specialty pharmacies is an effective strategy for hospitals because it enables them to extend care into their community for critically ill patients. However, specialty medications come with additional costs that can impact the pharmacies’ potential to serve its patient population. For example, specialty prescription claims can often be rejected or denied, leading to higher out-of-pocket costs for patients, or impact patient advocacy programs.

Based on our years of experience working with health systems, we recognized a need for hospitals to use a multipronged specialty pharmacy approach that addresses the entire continuum of patient care. Our full range of specialty pharmacy services for hospitals includes consultative support, accreditation compliance, payor access and full-service management, which includes handling day-to-day operations as well as employee recruiting and education. In addition to these specialty pharmacy services, we developed a solution called Cardinal Health™ Atrix™ Ally to help hospitals and affiliated specialty pharmacies manage claim denials and identify patient advocacy opportunities to help patients better afford the cost of care.

Our Atrix™ Ally solution provides specialty pharmacies with remote support for its prescription claims adjudication to minimize claim rejections and denials, which directly impacts patients’ share of costs. The solution also uncovers patient advocacy opportunities, such as commercial co-pay assistance and non-profit and premium assistance granting, for all eligible patients, regardless of payor coverage. As a result, the solution relieves administrative burdens, allowing specialty pharmacists more time to focus on necessary patient consultations and patient care.

Trend #3: Artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled capabilities represent an opportunity to address many health systems’ challenges

Health system pharmacies are being asked to do more with less. One way to expand services with existing resources is to augment pharmacy teams through technology like AI and machine learning. The benefits of AI are widespread and represent an opportunity for health systems to decrease costs and improve efficiencies for providers so they in turn can focus on providing high quality, personalized patient care.

Cardinal Health is developing new ways to leverage AI and machine learning to streamline and simplify the hospital medication supply chain. For example, the Cardinal Health™ InteLogix™ Platform leverages this technology to reduce the cost of care for health systems and ensure access to critical medications. One of its first solutions, the InteLogix™ Contract Optimizer, utilizes machine learning to drive value for hospitals by providing actionable insights for contract compliance, cost controls and product alternatives. In the future, we will explore applications to leverage predictive analytics for health system drug inventory planning and to minimize the complexity of specialty drug purchases.

While hospitals, health systems and healthcare providers continue to navigate increasing challenges and opportunities, their commitment to providing high quality patient care remains steadfast. We’re grateful for the work they do every day, and we are proud to support them by delivering innovative solutions to help them run their hospitals more efficiently and improve the lives of their patients.

Angela Perrie is the senior vice president and general manager of Cardinal Health’s Health System and Provider Distribution & Services business. She oversees traditional and specialty pharmaceutical distribution sales and services for health systems, hospitals, specialty physician offices, long-term and alternate care facilities and community health centers across the country.

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Cardinal Health is a distributor of pharmaceuticals, a global manufacturer and distributor of medical and laboratory products, and a provider of performance and data solutions for healthcare facilities. Subscribe to our News Alerts to get all of our latest news.