Pharmaceutical procurement, inventory and distribution can all be affected by global factors beyond a healthcare system’s control—a lesson that has become all too clear during a worldwide pandemic.

Aigner George
Aigner George, PharmD

This challenge not only presents major financial implications for healthcare organizations, but it could potentially impact patient care. Aigner George, PharmD, Senior Director, Pharmacy Solutions at HealthTrust, says the biggest obstacles in pharmaceutical supply chain are around efficiency and inventory, which ultimately affect patient care. “The most essential responsibility of a pharmacist is to get the right drug to the right patient at the right time,” says George. “The more we optimize our processes and our inventory, the better the pharmacy team members can do that effectively and safely.”

The role of business intelligence

George cites the use of artificial intelligence as being transformative in this effort. “As you start to comb through the data elements that exist within pharmacy supply chain—the logistics from procurement to administration—and you think about how to tie those elements into something actionable, it’s business intelligence,” explains George. “We need business intelligence solutions to be able to identify successful tactics in supply chain management.”

While other innovations, like automated dispensing cabinets and medication carousels, are also helping to maximize pharmaceutical efficiencies, artificial intelligence is a thread that ties it all together. It creates a system that can identify inventory needs and helps pinpoint the best purchasing decisions.

Bob Pellechio
Bob Pellechio, RPh, MPA

Member organization RWJBarnabas Health is implementing an artificial intelligence software tool to help manage its supply. Bob Pellechio, RPh, MPA, Vice President of Pharmacy at RWJBarnabas Health, says this move could equate to annual cost savings of 5% to 10%. “From a decision-making perspective, it will make it a lot easier for us to obtain inventory from where we need to purchase it,” he says. “It will let us know how much product we have within the system and, ultimately, allow us to shift product within the system without having to go out and buy more. We’re looking forward to the process being more automated.”

This type of software can help pharmacy leaders make decisions based on factors they can’t control—or even anticipate. “What we hear is that AI [artificial intelligence] is going to be extended to social media,” says Pellechio. “It’s going to pull in data about certain trends throughout the world to help us improve planning for the future. It can warn us: ‘There’s a hurricane coming, and it’s heading this way. Maybe you should purchase more of a certain drug or take alternate steps.’ The information will be laid out to us, and then it will be up to us to make the decision on what actions to take.”

How COVID-19 has necessitated automation

Pellechio says the pandemic has been instructive when it comes to supply chain vulnerabilities. “A lot of products that we typically purchase, or their active ingredients, are made in China, India or Italy. These countries actually closed down the export of these products, and it really hurt us,” he says. “One of the things we’ve learned is to make sure we know where all the ingredient supplies are coming from and diversify a little bit more, so we have more options in the future.”

To that end, HealthTrust is helping Pellechio’s health system, and others, find options. “We’re expanding our purchasing and broadening our scope of companies that we source from for some of these products,” says Pellechio. “HealthTrust has set up alternate suppliers. So we’ll have a different source to buy from should we need to do so.”

A close eye on inventory will also be essential. “A lot of facilities found that they were lacking a real view into what inventory looks like for critical medications related to COVID-19,” George says. “A big lesson learned is that members have to have a more accurate picture at a moment’s notice, in real time, on what their inventories are.”

George’s hope is that as we move forward through the pandemic, organizations will look to streamline and optimize their inventory through business intelligence. “When we think of inventory management, we often think it’s just operational,” she says. “COVID-19 has proven that it’s also driving patient care—because if you don’t have visibility into the inventory status of medications, then you don’t have a real handle on your ability to treat patients. It’s a disservice to you from both a patient care and a fiscal perspective.”

How HealthTrust can help

Pellechio has seen the value of HealthTrust as a group purchasing organization. “When HealthTrust negotiates contracts on our behalf, they’re negotiating within the verbiage of the contract for 110% to 120% of supply. So the companies they’re negotiating with will hold 10% or 20% of supply with this alternative wholesaler for shortage reasons,” he explains.

HealthTrust Pharmacy Solutions can help guide facilities on using this technology and managing their overall pharmacy supply chain operations to maximize efficiencies. “We become your team member to help you manage through all of the major focus points within pharmacy optimization,” says George.

That’s only one piece of the puzzle, George explains. “We focus on every aspect of pharmacy optimization; for example, supply expense management, clinical programs, quality initiatives and leadership development,” she adds. “It’s important for members to know that we are a strategic partner to help you move to your next level of success. We want to be there to support you.”


Transform your pharmacy care with HealthTrust Pharmacy Solutions.
Learn more here.

For more information about Pharmacy Solutions from HealthTrust, contact Aigner George at

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