Health System-Based Specialty Pharmacy Offers Unique Advantages in HIV Care

Specialty pharmacists’ roles have grown in new and exciting ways in recent years, and those changes have directly impacted health outcomes for all specialty patients, including patients with HIV.

As medication has been developed and improved to treat HIV, so has the care team surrounding the patient. As a therapy management pharmacist who specializes in HIV medication, my role in that improved care team is to make sure patients being treated for PrEP/PEP/HIV are on appropriate regimens, manage their adverse effects, answer medication questions, and help them navigate through potential barriers to care.

I feel empowered to provide a higher level of care than a retail pharmacist as part of the integrated care team within the health system that reaches from the patient’s clinic to our many resources in the specialty pharmacy.

Specialty pharmacists’ roles have grown in new and exciting ways in recent years, and those changes have directly impacted health outcomes for all specialty patients, including patients with HIV. Our integration into the health care team has allowed us to directly engage patients with new technology and stand by their sides as advocates, creating a better future for them and improving their care.

One advantage of a health system-based specialty pharmacy is data access. With our health system’s electronic medical record system readily available, I can see my patients’ labs and any new medication updates quickly and easily.

If there is an issue, I am only a click away from contacting team members in the clinic directly. Whether it is a patient needing assistance with applying for insurance with a social worker or a drug interaction, I can easily connect with physicians, nurses, medication therapy management pharmacists, and social workers to resolve any issue.

Communication between the members of each patient’s care team is also a proven factor in enhancing patient care. For instance, I have the unique opportunity to attend monthly meetings with our infectious disease clinic, which helps me learn about their needs and how our pharmacy can continually improve care to our shared patients.

We regularly communicate about barriers our patients face in accessing their medications and work closely to help patients succeed. The foundational relationship I have with the clinic eliminates delays in care and promotes efficient problem solving.

The health system infrastructure also helps us manage clerical work and financial assistance when needed. In the specialty pharmacy, we have a dedicated staff just for patients receiving costly PrEP/PEP/HIV medication.

Our experts navigate the often arduous process of obtaining prior authorizations with insurance and work with patients needing additional funding with grants or ADAP. They also assist with applications for free drug programs with manufacturers and provide same day courier service in the metro and surrounding areas to prevent any delays in starting therapy.

Patients who have been diagnosed with HIV or other serious illnesses should not carry the burden of administrative work by themselves, which is often the case for patients who use a retail pharmacy. By offering support to obtain their medications as easily as possible, we can improve drug adherence and maximize the efficacy of the drugs by keeping patients on the appropriate schedules and dosages.

Affiliating with a renowned health system allows Fairview Specialty Pharmacy to maintain the highest quality standards and industry certifications. We have achieved and maintain URAC certification, Joint Commission accreditation, and most recently, were selected as the National Association of Specialty Pharmacy (NASP) Specialty Pharmacy of the Year.

Fairview also invests in its pharmacists. I am consistently encouraged to engage in professional development where I can build upon my knowledge in HIV through conferences and AAHIVP certification, while sharing any new insights with my colleagues.

Along with continually improving our quality of care, our pharmacy strives to implement the most current technology. Giving patients multiple options to contact the pharmacy and make communication as simple as possible helps to ensure there are no gaps in therapy.

We have expanded our communication from simple telephone communication and online ordering to include real-time texting with pharmacy staff, which provides another convenient and private option. There is still a stigma around HIV, so having the option to text the pharmacy is a great opportunity to engage with patients who otherwise wouldn’t have felt comfortable on the phone. We should always strive to provide great health care to our patients in an easy and confidential manner.

By working directly with patients and managing each case very closely, we develop a strong connection to the HIV community. I have witnessed progress made by activists in the HIV community that push to improve patient care and make us as health care providers better.

They are the ones calling out the gaps in care and inspiring changes with local legislatures and health care providers. I have personally been motivated to contact local legislators myself to bring up issues I see affecting my patients seeking HIV care at the pharmacy.

When I first started out in pharmacy in the early 2000s I could never have predicted how quickly HIV treatment would evolve to the medications we have today. I have been through many practice settings and have learned that great patient care means patient-centered care.

Being a pharmacist specializing in HIV today means listening to advocates to see how I can improve my part of the health care puzzle, working as a team to keep patients healthy and staying actively engaged in learning as new advancements in HIV therapy bring us closer to a cure someday. Fortunately, the support structure of a health system-based specialty pharmacy has allowed me to impact patient care more effectively and drive more positive outcomes through collaboration, technology, and the best available resources for HIV treatment.

About the Author

Ann Harty, AAHIVP, is a specialty pharmacist at Fairview Health Services, a member of the Excelera Network.

Excelera the company behind the Excelera Network, is a subsidiary of Shields Health Solutions, the premier specialty pharmacy accelerator health system leaders trust to elevate clinical, operational and financial performance.