Patient Engagement Vital to Success in Specialty Pharmacy

Specialty pharmacy customer service measures are key in achieving optimal patient outcomes.

Specialty pharmacy has been around for a few decades, but it is still a little mysterious and intimidating for patients and prescribers.

A specialty pharmacy that wants to be a player in the space for years to come should work to make the process of obtaining specialty pharmacy services as painless as possible, for both patients and prescribers. Both prescribers and patients must be viewed as customers, and each is equally important in different ways.

The prescriber may be easy to work with, in the sense that a specialty pharmacy can simply first ask their expectations, and then work with the prescriber and their office staff in the requested fashion. The patient could prove more difficult to work with, as the specialty pharmacy must take the lead and set expectations for care.

The specialty pharmacy must balance this, while providing customer service in the manner the patient has come to demand from any other interaction with a company or service in their everyday life. Specialty Pharmacy Times Editor-in-Chief Dan Steiber notes that patient satisfaction is not as a key metric in specialty as it is in community pharmacy, but he expects this to shift as URAC mentions “satisfaction” 72 times in their specialty pharmacy guide.

As URAC goes, the industry goes, and it is clear that patient satisfaction will play a larger role in accreditation and contracting. A first impression sets the tone for the duration of therapy.

A positive first impression will help to ensure the effort spent acquiring the script is not wasted because the patient wants to get their script from a different pharmacy. Onboarding a patient to drug therapy can take weeks, and does not really stop until the first refill is dispensed.

The onboarding process should be seamless and painless for the patient. The patient has likely just received a life-changing diagnosis, and may not have any previous experience with specialty pharmacy.

The patient could very well be facing the most difficult challenge of their lives when they have their first interaction with a specialty pharmacy. Not only this, but it may have taken days of confusion and aggravation before they were even able to find the right pharmacy who has their script, or finds a pharmacy to take care of their script.

Specialty pharmacy should work to avoid having a patient in the dark, and should reach out to let them know what to expect in the next days, weeks, and months of therapy. Being proactive and reaching out to the patient takes one thing off the patient’s plate, as they navigate a new diagnosis.

Letting the patient know that they have a script that is being worked on by professionals should alleviate some of the concern of not knowing what to do after they leave the doctor’s office. Working with the patient to gather correct contact information, as well as insurance billing information, then following up at an agreed upon time helps to establish credibility in the patient’s mind.

Explaining to the patient that they will be contacted within 72 hours or sooner if there are any changes in the status of their script provides the specialty pharmacy with time to work, in addition to giving the patient time to get on with their life. This is also a good time to let the patient ask questions they may have thought of since leaving the doctor’s office.

It is definitely a good time to prompt them to write down any questions they think of in the next few days, so they may be covered during the next phone call or simply call in during business hours. Specialty pharmacies service patients almost exclusively remotely via telephone or Internet, but rarely in person.

Setting this expectation for the patient is important for the pharmacist in order to provide high quality care. The patient should know that each interaction with the specialty pharmacy will take longer than a simple refill reminder, and should be placed closer on the spectrum of an appointment or checkup, compared with an appointment reminder call.

If the patient does not get the feeling that they are receiving quality care remotely in their first few interactions, it will become difficult to keep them engaged throughout the duration of drug therapy. Keeping the patient engaged is essential for the success of their drug therapy, and shows up in metrics that payers, manufacturers, and accreditation boards measure.

An unengaged patient will be less likely to be adherent to drug therapy and more likely to have disease state progression and greater dollar resource utilization. Giving the patient some control also gives them stake in their drug therapy.

Allowing them to schedule delivery dates, supply requests, and best times to contact them makes the patient’s life more structured, and will also allow the pharmacy to work more efficiently by avoiding extra phone calls or extra inventory expenses by reshipping medication.

Overall, the specialty pharmacy must balance professionalism, guidance, and flexibility when reaching out to the patient for initial and subsequent contact during the onboarding process, from obtaining a script to delivery of medication.

About the Author

John Meehan earned his PharmD degree from Duquesne University in 2010. John worked in retail pharmacy in rural North Carolina before transitioning to a clinical pharmacist position at Chartwell PA in Pittsburgh, PA. John is currently enrolled in the Masters of Science in Pharmacy Business Administration (MSPBA) program at the University of Pittsburgh, a 12-month, executive-style graduate education program designed for working professionals striving to be tomorrow’s leaders in the business of medicines.