Differentiation: Separating From the Pack—The “MUST” Haves

Specialty Pharmacy Times, September/October, Volume 8, Issue 6

Pharmacies that do not differentiate themselves and fail to provide must-have services will lose out to their competitors.

WE OFTEN THINK OF SPECIALTY as being unique—separate from other providers in the market, including pharmacy—but the reality is that specialty pharmacy is becoming crowded. Creating a differentiated strategic plan has become essential to having a successful business practice. The definition of a differentiation strategy calls for the development of a product or service that offers unique attributes that are valued and perceived by customers to be better than, or different from, the products of the competition. Competition is everywhere in specialty.

The pharmaceutical industry has shifted its research and development portfolios from traditional chronic diseases (hypertension, diabetes, glaucoma, conditions associated with aging, etc) to rare diseases, oncology, hepatitis, etc. Innovation and differentiation have become the new mantra for success, and we MUST match services to products. Last year’s new molecular entity approvals play this out, where 100% of those approvals clearly fall within the definition of specialty. Therefore, if you are in pharmacy or want to get into the pharmacy space long term, you MUST be in specialty.

The Shift to Specialty

These trends are not new; however, what accelerated those trends, in my view, was the shift toward generics over the past 10 to 15 years, as patents expired or were challenged. There are few traditional chronic diseases that do not currently have a proven generic product that can be used to competently treat these ailments of aging. It is very difficult for pharma to differentiate their branded products in this hyper-competitive market and among payers—through formularies, reimbursement strategies, and the $4-per-month generic programs—to succeed. Recent data from the QuintilesIMS Institute revealed just what a bite out of profitability a branded manufacturer must endure to create market share in this environment. Why does this matter to specialty? Because these are the trends that are creating the shift. » As the product portfolio has changed, so, too, has the focus in pharmacy shifted to an evolve-or-die approach—business Darwinism at its finest. If you are reading this, then you have made the shift. But to what degree? As we have cataloged, specialty is all about providing unique services to enhance patient outcomes. The cost of a product should not necessarily be the sole driver that defines specialty. That definition would sell services short.

The “MUST” Haves

Specialty pharmacies MUST differentiate from traditional pharmacies by focusing on providing many aspects of patient care and disease management. Yes, a specialty pharmacy MUST deliver medications in an efficient manner that takes into consideration the special handling, storage, and distribution requirements of these products, and more. However, a specialty pharmacy MUST also focus on how to optimize every interaction as well as the economic and clinical outcomes—particularly around complex, rare, and chronic disease states—by deploying the integrated services of a team of qualified health care professionals. These professionals MUST accept the duty to provide their patients and caregivers with education that emphasizes medication utilization and adherence to therapy and seek alternatives to reduce unnecessary costs when appropriate. This team approach MUST foster an environment of information sharing between providers. Given the high cost of these therapies, specialty pharmacies MUST be experts at seeking financial alternatives to help patients manage drug costs. If your pharmacy is not providing these “MUST” services, another pharmacy will. As such, you need to ensure that your business is differentiating itself.

Finding Your Niche

There are a couple of rate limiters from the outset, namely access to a product and access to payers. Get past these hurdles and then success is driven by execution. As we have thousands of newly minted accredited specialty pharmacies, accreditation alone does not guarantee success or differentiation in the current marketplace. There are many potential points of differentiation; the key is finding a niche. A few examples include focusing on specific disease states, surrounding your business with top talent, surrounding your processes with evidence of success driven by data, compounding unique formulations, affiliating with other providers in a particular area, providing access to products that others may not have, and many more.

Separating yourself from the safety of the herd can be the key to success; but, doing so is accompanied by risk. Therefore, having a plan, doing your homework, and being prepared is essential. You MUST find that special something to differentiate your practice.

You MUST Develop A Road Map

As pharmacists, we all get the same fundamental training and pass the same boards to become registered. It is what we do with this baseline training that differentiates us. Benjamin Franklin has been quoted as saying, “Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

How MUST we grow? We have been blessed as a profession in that there are limitless opportunities to grow and everything we need to learn is now online. Our industry also has several events that bring together thousands of like-minded professionals who are willing to help their colleagues take it to the next level. All the professional associations have recognized the emergence of specialty and have created initiatives to fine-tune skills for those who seek them.

The best place to begin investing in the future is in yourself. As the common saying goes, this is a marathon, not a sprint. The top athlete gets better through training, repetition, and competition. As you read this, hopefully we will have had an opportunity to visit at the fifth annual National Association of Specialty Pharmacy (NASP) Annual Meeting and Educational Conference, September 18-20, 2017, at the Marriott Wardman Park in Washington, DC. The offerings of this program came because of your specialty pharmacy peers, dedicated individuals who took time away from running their own businesses to lend a hand to others, all with a focus on better patient care and advancing the profession. Programs included comprehensive information regarding all aspects of specialty pharmacy; since it’s held in DC, national legislative and regulatory policy; and the Certified Specialty Pharmacist exam (http://naspnet.org/csp-certification/). Specialty Pharmacy Times® partnered with NASP for this meeting, including filling out the roster of participants at the expo. Representatives from leading pharmaceutical manufacturing organizations, service providers, and other specialty pharmacies were in attendance. Knowledge is essential, but relationships put that knowledge to work.

In closing, a quote from tennis superstar Venus Williams to Vibe Magazine: “You have to do things right to stay in business, and that’s not easy, and that’s a choice on a daily basis, the choices you make in how to run your business and how to have a point of differentiation and how to be true to your brand, how to offer something that people want and to offer something that you love.” Follow your passion. Fine tune your craft. Put your patients first and you will succeed. â—†