The Hunger for an Integrated, All-Inclusive Specialty Pharmacy Management System

Current platforms are not designed for the dynamic needs of today’s specialty pharmacy providers.

The marketplace for a pharmacy management system (PMS) that is specific to the niche of specialty pharmacy practice offers limited choices for fully integrated, end-to-end platforms targeted to empower the growing small-to-medium specialty pharmacy providers. Most of the systems in widespread use today were originally designed for other delivery models and adapted to the practice of specialty pharmacy.

These include long-term care, inpatient, mail order, infusion, and home care pharmacy platforms. The remainder were intentionally and initially designed for the core pharmacy workflow common to the historical experiences of retail pharmacy.

Since the currently utilized platforms were not truly designed from the ground up for the dynamic needs of today’s specialty pharmacy providers, each has to be evaluated for its own unique strengths and weaknesses inherent to its original design manifest. This led to a wide range of ancillary vendors who close the capability gaps with varying levels of sophistication and integration.

Most small-to-medium independent specialty pharmacy providers have adopted semi-integrated solutions by layering on ancillary vendors, which have developed as one off experiences focused on immediate customer needs. This is quite understandable, considering a full scope technology footprint includes telephony; multichannel communication; patient care coordination cascades; inventory management systems; cold chain controls; shipping and delivery tracking; performance metrics; bi-directional dynamic data transmission; billing and reimbursement support; patient support access; active hub integration; finance focused accounting; HIT enabled capabilities; QA management; pharmacovigilance adverse event reporting; and detailed custom reporting modules.

While each currently active vendor and their respective solution offers a flavor of pharmacy management system able to appease a single layer of the requirements of today’s specialty pharmacies, no single vendor has deployed a completely inclusive solution. The accompanying suite of supporting ancillary vendor solutions fails to truly offer seamless and powerful patient care workflow.

This poses as a barrier for advancing and scaling gold standard services at any level of growth. At this time, it remains a trial and error quest for small-to-medium specialty pharmacy providers who have emerged in the marketplace.

Commonly, it is in the response to a customer request or problem that these specialty pharmacy providers identify and engage incrementally greater capabilities by stacking on disparate solutions of hardware and software. Often, these same specialty pharmacy providers revert to the historically proven method of using ultra low continuum technology and bolstering that decision by throwing mountains of manpower at the situation.

It should be concerning how many “sophisticated” specialty pharmacy providers truly continue to run complex and critical systems for their manufacturer clients based on simple excel spreadsheets and manual calendars. With that said, there is a hunger among small-to-medium specialty pharmacy providers and a true need for current technology vendors to begin learning how the practice of specialty pharmacy and high-touch patient care has evolved.

No longer will the commoditized mail order specialty pharmacy be sought after or tolerated by manufacturer partners. Astute specialty pharmacy providers are exploring custom-built, privately-owned solutions that they create and control with in-house developers.

This often carries a heavy price tag and corporate commitment that is only feasible for the largest of specialty pharmacy providers. For the small-to-medium specialty pharmacy providers without the deep cash reserves or the appetite for parallel investment, this leaves little choice but to raise the volume on the voice of demand to vendors for more capable and robust systems.

With this turn in demand, technology also needs to follow closely and provide deeper, more integrated experiences for pharmacy staff to utilize in the engagement and treatment of their intrinsically complex patients during the service commitments to their manufacturer partners.

The second viewpoint is that the development and market directed adaptation of these solutions needs to be developed at a pace akin to the velocity in which specialty pharmacy practice is expanding. Technology vendors answering this demand will have to step outside of their comfort zone in terms of sizable investment and the way that they respond to current developmental trends.

Technology vendors who listen closely to the winds of change will immediately recognize a marketplace that is eager to embrace and purchase sophisticated, out of the box solutions intended to bridge the gaps in process, enhance patient communication, appease manufacturer hunger for live data, streamline care and product delivery, and aggregate the stories of success told by performance and outcomes.

About the Author

Heather Brand earned her BA in Chemistry and PharmD from the University at Buffalo, SUNY. She worked for an oncology based pharmacy for 6 years prior to transitioning to a consultant role for a benefits management firm. She is currently employed by Onco360 pharmacy as a Clinical Oncology Pharmacist and has just completed her Masters of Science in Pharmacy Business Administration (MSPBA), a 12-month, executive-style graduate education program designed for working professionals striving to be tomorrow’s leaders in the business of medicines at the University of Pittsburgh.