Challenges on the Path for Data Standardization in Specialty Pharmacy

Specialty Pharmacy TimesOctober 2020
Volume 3
Issue 3

A panel of experts outlined various challenges to data standardization as well as potential solutions available through further collaboration.

Data standardization has been an ongoing problem in the specialty pharmacy field, affecting both patients and providers when approaching treatments, according to a panel at the National Association of Specialty Pharmacy (NASP) 2020 Annual Meeting & Expo Virtual Experience. The panel outlined various challenges to data standardization as well as potential solutions available through further collaboration.

During the session on the push for data standardization, J. W. Hill, MBA-HCM, CNED, executive vice president and general manager of the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs (NCPDP); Lynn Pezzullo, RPh, senior director of quality innovation at Pharmacy Quality Alliance (PQA); and Luis Rodriguez, president of KeyCentrix, each explained their perspectives on the challenges and potential solutions.

Hill said that NCPDP is a standards development organization accredited by the American National Standards Institute. NCPDP has approximately 1500 members who are volunteers falling into 3 segments—producerprovider, payer-processor, and general interest.

NCPDP became engaged in specialty pharmacy in 2018 after their board of trustees examined their standard-making process and how they could better support initiatives specifically around specialty, with its unique process flows, according to Hill.

“As we evaluated what kind of task groups we wanted to support in our specialty space, we understood that there are about 6 billion transactions prescribed annually. And by the year 2024, there will be about $420 billion in drug spend,” Hill said. “So we know that America is taking more drugs, and we also know that Americans are taking more specialty drugs.”

However, Hill noted that specialty pharmacy has some unique challenges around processing and the patient journey. For this reason, NCPDP decided to launch the Specialty Pharmacy Data Exchange Task Group (SPDETG) to assess the reporting, documentation, and exchange requirements for all stakeholders within the field, including specialty pharmacies, pharmacy benefit managers, data aggregators, hubs, and manufacturers.

The work of this task force helped identify some of the unique challenges affecting workflow in the specialty pharmacy space. These include the lack of a universal definition of specialty pharmacy; a lack of universal reimbursement, dispensing, or administration models; and the existence of a newly created category of medications called limited distributions drugs.

Pezzullo noted that she has regularly participated in the SPDETG to support efforts to enhance specialty pharmacy workflow and that this has helped inform her understanding of the path forward regarding data standardization.

Additionally, Pezzullo said that PQA has been able to identify similar challenges on the path ahead to data standardization through testing their specialty pharmacy turnaround time (SP-TAT) measure.

PQA established this measure to assess the average number of days between a specialty pharmacy receiving a new prescription for a specialty medication and the prescription being ready for pickup or scheduled for delivery.

During the testing of SP-TAT, PQA found that the challenges to efficient turnaround time in specialty pharmacy included a lack of established, standardized performance metrics ; the desire for outcome measures ; highly variable, nonstandardized data sources ; insufficient interoperability ; differing specialty pharmacy models ; and numerous dispensing and care management systems.

“Dispensing systems and care management systems are varied in what data they are able to capture and how it’s captured. Additionally, many systems are configurable, which really is a benefit to meet individual specialty pharmacy needs but also can pose a challenge when trying to define standardized data fields and data elements toward measurement,” Pezzullo said.

From a technology solutions perspective, Rodriguez noted that technology can help ensure data move and flow in the right direction in several ways. However, he also said that some challenges exist for technology stakeholders that hinder their engagement in the acceleration of these kinds of standards.

Rodriguez said several challenges exist in the adoption of any standard by a technology stakeholder. These include the incentives of a capitalist system that places a heightened importance on the role of supply and demand, the presence of unfunded mandates from nonlegal entities, a lack of support from a strong member body that can push standards to the “optional zone,” and the existence of multiple standards bodies that can cause overlap for systems providers.

He explained that although the presence of multiple standards bodies like NCPDP and PQA are valuable and important, they are not always in harmony with each other.

“They overlap and touch things, but they are not looking at the technology in harmony. They are very good clinicians, they are very good business operators, [and] they are very good at understanding the payer landscape and journey. But sometimes, they run straight into a brick wall when it comes to understanding the feasibility of a technical deployment,” Rodriguez said. “When you have all of them very enthusiastic about their standard and the implication it has on health care and the patient, you can kind of be tossed in different directions, and that can be difficult.”

However, there are ways to overcomes these challenges, Rodriguez noted.

“Those challenges, they all can be overcome. It takes concerted effort, of course; it takes finding the right partners, finding the right body and the right network, and just being disciplined about that,” he said.

To support efforts to improve data standardization, Pezzullo explained that PQA has established the Data and Interoperability Advisory Group (DIAG). The DIAG works to advise PQA on infrastructure and interoperability solutions to enable data sharing aligned with value-based pharmacy services, considers current data standards that support development of prioritized pharmacy quality measures , and identifies new data standards needed to support future measure development.

Additionally, Hill noted that some transactions could occur to enhance specialty pharmacy workflow. These would include electronic prior authorization and risk evaluation and mitigation strategies enhancements, as well as efforts to advance real-time benefits information.

Furthermore, Hill said engaging in efforts to develop standardized reporting to support contractual arrangements between the manufacturers, specialty pharmacy, and other stakeholders is critical.

“We do collaborate with PQA in determining how to solidify and be aligned with additional quality measures that support specialty processes,” Hill said. “We definitely need folks in NASP to help us move these initiatives forward.”


Hill JW, Pezzullo L, Rodriguez L. A push for data standardization. Panel presented at: NASP 2020 Annual Meeting & Expo Virtual Experience; September 16, 2020.!/Lobby.

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