Echoing a common theme discussed throughout the Asembia Specialty Pharmacy Summit 2019, Dean Erhardt, MBA, of D2 Pharma Consulting, told an audience during his session that the future of health care is going to be digitally focused and pharmacists need to be well versed in a growing array of digital options to best serve their patients.

From mobile apps to artificial intelligence (AI) in a toilet that analyzes samples to inform patients about their health (Micron investigators are reportedly exploring this type of AI toilet technology right now), digital innovations are opening up a world in which patients can remain better informed about their health and pharmacists can use digital metrics to help their patients make more informed health care decisions.

Erhardt pointed to several new digital options on the market, including the Glucose Buddy, described on the product’s website as a “diabetes management platform” that enables patients to track blood sugar, insulin, and food intake, as just 1 example of the multitude of digital platforms enabling patients to gain better insights into and help manage their health. Targeted patient programs such as these will also allow pharmacists to tailor medicine options to the patient, joining genetic testing and customized gene therapies in an expanding array of personalized medicine options.

Technology is also influencing the way that patients access their health care. Erhardt pointed to Amazon’s June 2018 acquisition of PillPack, which manages prescriptions for patients and ships medication right to their front door, as an area in which technology has changed the patient experience.

“Four main reasons that make PillPack a great buy for Amazon: It gave them presence in 49 states, it enables them to cater to a larger demographic, [it] offers recurring revenues, and scaling up due to add-ons,” Erhardt said.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s acquisition of PillPack led to approximately $13 billion in market value loss for some of the larger pharmacy chains and an uptick in megamergers of pharmaceutical giants, “in a way we haven’t seen before,” he added. 

Erhardt noted that each player in the mega pharmacy mergers are looking to differentiate themselves, with the primary goal of meeting patients where they are, “anywhere and everywhere.” He pointed to CVS Health’s SmileDirectClub plan, which expands access to orthodontic clear aligner therapy through SmileShops in CVS Pharmacy locations, as an area of differentiation. Erhardt added that retail chains are looking at lower-cost models such as these for consumers to access quality medical care while keeping them out of more expensive settings. The potential impact is many cross-selling opportunities and the ability to leverage newer technologies that can measure across both pharmacy and medical homes.

Just as it is changing the patient journey in health care, technology is also changing the specialty pharmacist’s health care experience. “Technology is changing the specialty pharmacist’s health care experience. “Technology is changing how we do business,” Erhardt said, pointing out that many specialty pharmacies are using apps and customer-relationship management (CRM) programs, such as Salesforce, to deliver needed medications to patients.

The idea behind CRMs, he said is to automate complex patient onboarding tasks, thereby increasing the customized experience for the patient and enabling the pharmacy to focus on getting medications to their patients.

Of course, budgeting constraints and a limited understanding of how to integrate automated workflows can pose challenges to becoming a digitally focused specialty pharmacy, but, Erhardt said, surmounting these challenges is important to getting to the end goal, which is a better patient experience.

“Patient engagement is an ideal health care situation in which people are well informed about and motivated to be involved in their medical care,” Erhardt said. The goal he said, it to build up to an engagement platform that is fully automated, enabling better specialty pharmacy communications with patients.