How pharmacy leaders can help their organizations thrive as costs rise

Pharmacy leaders face a variety of challenges ranging from financial issues like drug budgets and contract optimization to operational concerns such as formulary and inventory management. Addressing these challenges while also dealing with priorities like strategy, talent development and other key initiatives can feel overwhelming.

Becker’s Hospital Review recently spoke with two experts from HealthTrust’s Advisory Solutions team about how hospital pharmacies are reducing costs, improving operations and adopting a more strategic outlook. Aigner George, PharmD, senior director of Pharmacy Solutions, and Drew Preslar, Assistant Vice President of inSight Advisory Solutions, shared how pharmacy consulting services can help organizations deal effectively with their most pressing challenges while achieving their most important goals.

In a world of rising drug costs, pharmacy leaders must proactively manage drug budgets

Managing drug costs is top of mind for hospital pharmacy leaders. This comes as no surprise, since pharmaceutical companies routinely increase prices; annual price hikes in excess of 10 percent aren’t unusual. Thoroughly analyzing drug expenses and identifying opportunities for savings can be time consuming, so some organizations often turn to outside help.

“It’s standard to identify high-impact savings opportunities by analyzing the top 25 drugs in terms of spend,” Dr. George said. “It’s important to not just look at a number, however. You need to understand the total impact.”

Methods to understand total spend impact include evaluation of spend analysis along with reimbursement to shed light on whether revenue can be generated to offset drug costs. Effective evaluation of spend can also point to potential utilization or conversion savings opportunities. Having a nimble formulary is essential, especially in light of the constantly evolving biosimilar market. Other approaches that can help mitigate the impact of increasing drug costs include optimizing GPO and local contracts, as well as strategic purchasing. Focus on clinical programs that incorporate therapeutic conversions and utilization criteria, such as antimicrobial stewardship programs, can also help manage cost.

“When we work with clients, we like to identify the savings potential up front that we see for them. We create a ‘Hot List’ that helps with the supply expense strategy and identifies financial opportunities,” Dr. George said. “From there, we collaborate on implementation resources, timelines and communication strategies to execute the work effort. We’ve achieved upwards of 80 percent of identified savings opportunity for clients.”

Operational resiliency is essential to meet increased patient care demands

To develop operational resiliency, hospital pharmacies must focus on inventory and total supply management. This includes focusing on consolidated services and optimizing inventory. Leading pharmacies also turn to advanced clinical practices, such as having pharmacists at essential points of care and tying clinical intervention documentation into the broader story of the effectiveness of pharmacy services.

Leadership also plays a central role in achieving and sustaining operational resiliency. Leaders must find ways to unlock the true intelligence captured within data in order to achieve a culture of continuous process improvement. Leaders also need to use the information available to anticipate and plan for future challenges.

“Looking ahead and creating contingency plans is critical,” Dr. George said. “A great example is the supply chain disruption and planning that is happening with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Pharmacy strategies and tactics must be “win-win” — that is, they need to align with the goals of the pharmacy department and the objectives of the organization at large. It’s often difficult for pharmacy leaders to develop robust strategies, however, because they may not be included in meetings at higher levels of the organization.

“Many times, we find that pharmacy leadership isn’t pulled into important strategy discussions,” Dr. George said. “Through targeted engagements, we help pharmacy leaders get a seat at the table for those conversations. We help them develop strategies that enhance pharmacy services and also align with the organization’s goals. That’s how leaders get the traction and lift they’re looking for.” To develop a strategic outlook that spans the next three to five years, pharmacy leaders must have discussions with internal and external stakeholders to identify how they are impacted by pharmacy operations.

“The pharmacy department must ask whether it’s in the right place with regard to industry-recognized strategic focus points like the supply chain, the evolving role of pharmacists and technicians and the healthcare marketplace,” Dr. George said. “Organizations need tactics that address the ‘now,’ as well as future concerns.”

Without tactical tools, it’s difficult for pharmacy leaders to execute strategies

When HealthTrust inSight Advisory consultants make recommendations, they ensure pharmacy leaders have all of the tools needed for implementation. “We don’t just identify the opportunity; we facilitate clients having the ability to realize the benefit of that change, whether it’s financial, operational, clinical or related to quality measures,” Mr. Preslar said.

For example, during a conversion project, physicians may have questions for pharmacy leaders about why changes are being made. The HealthTrust inSight Advisory team will conduct due diligence, collaborate with organizational stakeholders and provide tools for successful movement.

Communication and marketing plans are also critical, since this is where many projects fall apart — not just in the world of pharmacy. “We come in, get the right stakeholders involved and ensure that leaders have the appropriate tools,” Dr. George said. “It is critical to socialize and market initiatives for success.”

Pharmacy consulting helps organizations wherever needs exist

Pharmacy consultants are a useful resource for both broad strategic projects and targeted initiatives, such as assessments around pharmacy operations or pharmacy automation.

“It’s important for people to know that there are multiple ways that we can participate with clients,” Dr. George said. “We can mentor directors of pharmacy or corporate leaders, and we can also help them build strategy at large or for specific pockets of the pharmacy department. There are many different paths.”

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