Architecting the Digital Pharmacy of the Future with Analytics and Automation

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Prescription drugs are vital for the care of millions of Americans – as are the pharmacies that provide them. Learn how the digital pharmacy of the future leverages automation and analytics to meet the rising demands of patients, providers, and payers alike.

Prescription drugs are at the core of the US health system, accounting for more than $535 billion in spending each year. Hundreds of millions of Americans rely on billions of prescription drugs to treat acute and chronic conditions, with some complex, high-risk patients requiring ten or more prescriptions to treat multiple chronic illnesses and conditions.

Unfortunately, the pharmacies that supply these therapeutic agents are under significant stress. There aren’t enough pharmacists to manage the rising demands of an aging population and those who continue to work in the field often lack the tools and support they need to dispense medications quickly, safely, and efficiently, especially during the age of COVID-19.

The strain on the pharmacy system ripples outwards to payers, providers, and patients in the form of higher prices, lower medication adherence rates, increased patient errors, and numerous preventable negative outcomes.

The pharmacy of the future must look very different. Creating a next-generation digital pharmacy is possible today – and it already exists.

The Digital Pharmacy of the Future has Arrived

Today’s digital pharmacies can combine cutting-edge technologies such as vial filling robots, predictive analytics, and data-driven patient outreach, with the traditional skills and insights of highly trained pharmacists and other clinical staff.

By increasing automation and taking a proactive approach to patient engagement, digital pharmacies have the potential to boost medication adherence, educate patients, and close gaps in care while simultaneously reducing unnecessary spending.

Pharmacies that leverage cutting-edge technologies and techniques will help the healthcare system accomplish the Triple Aim of improving patient experiences, fostering better outcomes – including improved CAHPS® survey results – and reducing overall costs of care.  Here’s how pharmacies and health plans can make it happen.

Medication Synchronization Makes Medication Adherence Easier and More Convenient

Patients who require multiple prescription medications each month often have a difficult time keeping their prescriptions filled and accessible due to organizational challenges. They may be working with several different doctors to manage chronic conditions, each of whom is on his or her own schedule when it comes to sending prescriptions to their pharmacy of choice. The result is often several trips each month to the pharmacy – or to multiple pharmacies – increasing the complexity of ensuring that prescriptions are available all the time. Patients with transportation access problems, including those who rely on unpaid caregivers for a ride to the pharmacy, may struggle even more to have an appropriate supply of medications on hand.  “Med sync” is an effective strategy for improving the proportion of days covered for chronic disease patients.  By establishing a single “anchor date” for medication pick up or delivery each month, pharmacies can dramatically reduce the complexity of home medication management and measurably improve adherence.

One recent study found that patients who participated in med sync were nearly 20 times more likely to meet standard adherence definitions compared to those who received regular pharmacy care. Med sync technologies can help next-generation digital pharmacists identify candidate anchor dates and ensure that all eligible medications are available on the same day of the month for easier prescription management and more patient-friendly experiences. When the digital pharmacy is integrated with the health plan claims data, the completeness of the patient’s medication profile will be more robust and lead to improved patient experience and quality of care.

Using Automated Dispensing Technologies to Improve Safety and Efficiency

Human pharmacists are essential for their experience and knowledge about an incredibly wide range of medications, interactions, and side effects.  But this value is often blunted by hours of repetitive, manual tasks such as counting pills and labeling bottles.

Filling vials is an easily automated process. Automated vial filling machines function largely independently, allowing highly trained pharmacists to experience fewer cognitive burdens while freeing up time to consult with patients or work with other members of an individual’s clinical team to deliver optimal care.

The machines only require a few staff members on hand for monitoring, which makes it easier to keep pharmacies moving during COVID-19 shutdowns or other disruptive events.

Vial filling robots are also more accurate than humans and rarely make mistakes that can threaten patient safety.  Some technologies boast a 100 percent accuracy rate when pharmacies follow the correct processes for preparing the robots for dispensing.

With internal cameras, sensors, and scanners to monitor operations and built-in protocols for prescriptions that require review, pharmacists and health plans can trust that patients are getting the right medications in the right amounts.

The result is quicker, highly trustworthy dispensing, better business continuity, and a pharmacist team with the mental and physical bandwidth to provide services directly to patients and providers.

Compliance Packaging Boosts Medication Adherence and Value-Based Outcomes

Medication nonadherence is directly tied to increased hospitalizations, higher spending, and worse outcomes.  It’s also an incredibly common problem among patients who take multiple prescription medications to treat numerous chronic illnesses and diseases.

Pharmacies and health plans who work with high-risk patients can reduce the prevalence of medication nonadherence with compliance packaging, such as blister packs and pill strips.

Compliance packs are color-coded, patient-friendly cards or strips that pre-package all medications together by dose date and time to help patients and caretakers better manage their daily routines.  These easy-to-use packs can raise correct self-dosing and adherence to upwards of 96 percent, research shows.

As with traditional vials, compliance packs are easily filled by automated dispenser technologies.  Compliance packaging robots have the potential to boost productivity so staff can focus on more intensive tasks.

Medicare Advantage (MA) health plans, in particular, have another strong incentive to embrace compliance packaging.  Better medication adherence rates are correlated with higher Star Ratings as more than half of the weighting in the Star Ratings system is tied directly to medication use and its downstream effects on patient health and utilization rates.

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Medication adherence starts at the pharmacy. As part of the digital pharmacy evolution, compliance packaging technologies can result in better control of key chronic disease metrics, reduced spending, and improved performance on the influential public rating scale.

Deliver Personalized Patient Experience by Leveraging Predictive Analytics

With automated tools to relieve pressure on valuable staff resources, skilled pharmacy experts will be freed up to practice at the top of their abilities. As a result, pharmacies can take a more central role in proactive, comprehensive patient care.

Pairing knowledgeable pharmacists with personalized, continuous member engagement can produce markedly better outcomes, especially for complex high-risk patients who require multiple prescriptions to treat chronic diseases.

Pharmacies and health plans can use predictive analytics tools to stratify populations and target high-risk individuals for enhanced outreach.  Staff can actively collaborate with patients to identify potential medication adherence or safety issues while addressing the socioeconomic and clinical factors that often lead to gaps in care.

Licensed pharmacists or care coordinators can then determine which patients most benefit from additional adherence and health management strategies, including the use of compliance packaging, home delivery of medications, medication synchronization, and a more comprehensive medication reconciliation review.

Lastly, additional predictive analytics for these vulnerable populations can give health plans and pharmacies the ability to forecast engagement patterns and patient behaviors so staff members know exactly how to keep patients involved in their own care and foster a meaningful, ongoing relationship.

An optimized pharmacy ecosystem that marries automation technologies with advanced analytics is a crucial component of a comprehensive, integrated care ecosystem for patients. Establishing the digital pharmacy of the future requires all healthcare stakeholders to invest in augmenting traditional capabilities with efficient, technology-driven services.

By working together to enhance the prescription drug environment, pharmacies and health plans can take a leading role in improving medication adherence, safeguarding patients, and creating a culture of better health for vulnerable individuals.

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