Wholesalers Aim to Support Pharmacy Partners Amid Shifting Pharmacy Landscape

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Claire Biermaas, President of Corporate Partnerships at Cencora, discussed how her team is working with their partners to address new challenges amid the shifting landscape of pharmacy.

In a Q&A, Claire Biermaas, President of Corporate Partnerships at Cencora, discussed how her team is working with their partners to address new challenges amid the shifting landscape of pharmacy. These challenges include burnout and understaffing as well as communication challenges between wholesalers and their partners. At every step of the way, Biermaas emphasized that her team works to identify and implement solutions that benefit pharmacists and, ultimately, their patients.

Claire Biermaas, President of Corporate Partnerships at Cencora

Image provided by Cencora

Claire Biermaas, President of Corporate Partnerships at Cencora

Image provided by Cencora

Q: We’ve seen quite a few stories in the press lately about pharmacists striking due to burnout and understaffing. Pharmacy Times has even reported on this. What are your thoughts on this situation?

Claire Biermaas: Pharmacists are under an incredible amount of pressure right now. Their role has shifted over the past several years, with patients looking to them as accessible health care providers, rather than just medication dispensers – and they simply cannot fully embrace this new role under current conditions. The situation that pharmacists are currently facing is similar to what we’ve seen with nurses, who are continuing to organize strikes. They’re both health care provider groups who are understaffed and lacking resources and assistance needed to maintain the level of care that is expected of them.

Despite the genuine threat, most won’t abandon their posts due to their dedication to patient care. That said, this situation signals an urgent need for support and resources to comfortably take on their expanded role. If organizations fail to address these issues, it won’t just harm pharmacists – it will also jeopardize patient well-being.

Q: How is Cencora’s Corporate Partnerships Team responding to this situation, given the team’s work as a distribution partner of and solution provider for large retail pharmacies?

Claire Biermaas: We—and the large retail pharmacy customers we partner with—hear pharmacists’ concerns loud and clear, and we’re quickly working together to develop solutions to address challenges and develop models to alleviate the pressure. One of the ways in which we are trying to help is by supporting our pharmacy customers who are adapting to the evolving perception and expectations of pharmacy care by creating models and programs that take some of the pressure off the pharmacists.

Let me give an example. Central fill is a solution being used across the industry that takes the prescription filling volume off the pharmacist’s plate, so they focus more on providing patient care. Central fill utilizes warehouses equipped with robots that efficiently fill the scripts. Although these scripts still must be checked manually by the pharmacist, it automates much of the manual labor involved in the prescription filling process. Cencora, as the distributor, is responsible for picking up and dropping off inventory from central fill’s locations to stores at appropriate times. We’re continuously working on how to effectively communicate the time of drop off with our customers, so someone is there to meet us only when needed (and not waiting longer than they must). There is a consciousness that wholesalers have, and we want to make sure that we’re getting things where they need to be at the right time and supporting the initiatives in which they are investing to help take pressure off pharmacists.

The Corporate Partnerships Team is workshopping with customers about the efficiency of processes, as well as discussing processes that we need to change and invest in to support different models customers are trying to deploy. Time and energy are being put into fixing the issues culminating in this pharmacist burnout that we’re witnessing—and wholesalers like Cencora are playing a large role in helping our customers workshop solutions. But it will take some time to perfect since it involves changing the model of the day-to-day life of the pharmacist.

Q: What are some other examples of how wholesalers like Cencora are jumping in to help solve this issue?

Claire Biermaas: Communication tools are another great example. As the distributor, if we don’t show up at the pharmacy with an order during the time that the pharmacist is expecting us to, we waste the pharmacist’s time. We are keenly aware that there are a million other things that they could be doing and that their time is precious. So, we are investing in tools to alert the pharmacists to expect us, so they aren’t sitting around and wasting any time.

With our retail pharmacy customers, we are working to create an open and frequent chain of communication store by store. We’re testing all kinds of communication tools and channels to perfect this interaction, and we’re evaluating this approach with our customers constantly to make sure that the solution we’re deploying is what’s working for their teams.

In all instances of solution development and refinement for our customers, we take the ‘shoulder-to-shoulder’ approach that Corporate Partnerships is known for. Once the customer and our team settle on a shared vision for the result—what we want the employee experience and patient experience to look like—we work backwards from there create a solution that will get us to that result. The Corporate Partnerships team is partnering closely with our supply chain experts at Cencora to ensure an efficient and effective process of getting the medications to the right place at the right time.

Q: Why should pharmacies continue to partner with wholesalers like Cencora?

Claire Biermaas: The industry shouldn’t lose sight of the efficiency of the wholesaler when they’re purchasing their products. Distributors are the critical partner between pharmaceutical manufacturers and pharmacies (and by extension, the patients they serve). Distributors operate with efficiency, while also safeguarding the valuable treatments entrusted to their care, meeting the demands of various manufacturers, pharmacies, and patients all while effortlessly moving millions of doses of treatments through the complex health care supply chain. For example, a pharmacist places an end-of-day order for medications intended to serve the patients who will come to their store the next morning. By the beginning of the workday, distributors will have already picked, packed, and shipped more than 10 million units of medication across the country to ensure patients receive their necessary therapies.

Distributors are agile and flexible to respond to new and emerging global challenges that may prompt the need to rapidly respond to disruptions to the supply chain. The global reach of distributors enables them to look around corners, anticipate risks and devise alternative solutions to ensure treatments reach the patients who need them. Distributors develop, invest in, and maintain complex technologies to safeguard the integrity of products in the supply chain when transporting or storing life-saving medications and treatments. For both the pharmacy and employees, it’s a huge time and money saver to have product all come from one place. Wholesales ensure orders are received together in organized totes. The value of the wholesaler is being a one-stop-shop in terms of the receiving experience for the pharmacist, therefore making pharmacists’ lives easier.

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