Advice for Growing a Health System Specialty Pharmacy


A webinar held by Trellis Rx discussed actionable ways to establish a successful clinic-based specialty pharmacy approach.

Buy-in from providers and a number of key stakeholders is essential to successfully grow a specialty pharmacy within a health system.

For Summa Health Specialty Pharmacy, doing this required several strategies, including driving higher levels of provider engagement, to accelerate growth within the health system.

Since April 2019, Summa Health has worked with Trellis Rx to establish an integrated, scalable specialty pharmacy operation, that included embedding pharmacists and supporting personnel within specialty clinics. Summa Health has since expanded to 11 clinics, citing strong provider partnerships as a key driver to program success.

A recently-held webinar by Trellis Rx and led by experts John Feucht, system director of pharmacy services at Summa Health; Denali Cahoon, chief operating officer of Trellis Rx; and Stuart Deal, manager of Summa Health Specialty Pharmacy focused on 5 key strategies for building successful provider partnerships.

1. Understand your specialty pharmacy landscape.

Successful provider partnerships are rooted in a high-level understanding of the value of specialty pharmacy, according to Cahoon. Specialty pharmacies can utilize data analysis, through e-prescribing data or patient encounters, to help estimate the overall specialty pharmacy market.

“You can take this a step further and use your market knowledge to better identify the barriers that there are to accessing that opportunity, such as known manufacturer and payer network exclusions,” she explained. “And really, this information is going to help you to determine a roadmap for where you can quickly add value to the providers and then the overall health system.”

Other key sources of information can be obtained by conducting stakeholder analysis and clinic shadowing, she noted. Determining the influence of those within the organizational structure can help pharmacy leaders identify who will be the initial promoters of the program initiative.

2. Think broadly to understand provider pain points.

To build the trust of the providers, Cahoon recommended demonstrating to providers a partnership that involves improving care for the patients and alleviating the administrative burden from the care team. “An embedded specialty pharmacy service gets everyone working in their own wheelhouse and it demonstrates to the providers that we can add immediate value to their team,” she said.

Transparency is another pain point for providers, particularly with external specialty pharmacies. Cahoon suggested facilitating better communication through documentation in patient records and collaborating on the clinical side to further build trust.

3. Adopt a change management mindset for integration.

When it comes to integration with clinic workflows, Cahoon emphasized that introducing a new workflow requires effective change management and commitment to iteration. Overall, the goal is to develop a new workflow that fully integrates with and supports the providers and their care team. This ultimately requires change management to “break the system and fix the system,” Cahoon said.

When proposing a new workflow, it is important to account for all connection points and how team members will potentially be impacted to determine how to work effectively with them. Communication is a key part of the process and requires defining how you’re going to communicate with providers and the care team about specialty pharmacy.

4. Measure and report on impact.

Deal discussed how to utilize metrics and establish a baseline and benchmarks to track progress over time. Measuring and reporting on the impact of services and capitalizing on wins can further deepen the clinical and strategic value of the specialty pharmacy team, he explained.

“In the beginning, it’s important to have an objective story to share with the providers and executive sponsors,” he said. Deal recommended using what matters most to the providers and members of the care team within the clinic as starting points. He noted that time to treat, adherence, and provider and nurse time capacity are typically the go-to measures of concern.

Using this data can help provide insight into improvements from baseline, as well benchmarking against other specialty pharmacies, and can ultimately drive the patient and provider satisfaction story.

“In addition to patient and provider satisfaction, reporting infrastructure for clinical, financial, and operational measures is a cornerstone for any good pharmacy software solution,” Deal added.

5. Share your story.

Gaining support and buy-in at the executive level is vital for the continued evolution and expansion of services throughout the health system. According to Deal, ongoing provider and nurse town halls are a great opportunity for open and honest communication. For Summa Health, Deal indicated that patient impact stories resonated especially well with leadership.

Dual focus on day-to-day patient management, such as guidance on therapy appropriateness, drug-drug interactions, and adherence interventions, as well as long-term strategic initiatives drives this successful partnership.

“With the initial success and buy-in from the clinic teams, the possibilities become endless for continued collaboration on clinical and strategic initiatives,” he said.


Trellis Rx. Health System Specialty Pharmacy — 5 Strategies for Building Successful Provider Partnerships [webinar]. September 18, 2019.

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