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An interview with AmerisourceBergen’s Chrissy Lane

In this interview Chrissy Lane, vice president of Good Neighbor Pharmacy, talks with ComputerTalk’s Will Lockwood about the major challenges facing independent pharmacy, the solutions Good Neighbor Pharmacy is bringing to bear for its member pharmacies, and the highlights from ThoughtSpot 2015.

ComputerTalk: Chrissy, first let’s start off with the big picture. What are the challenges that the Good Neighbor Pharmacy team hears about from pharmacies.

Chrissy Lane:
Reimbursement, changing networks, and competition are some of the biggest issues independent pharmacists are facing today.

The primary challenge is declining reimbursement. It’s a struggle for any business to be successful when they are not being paid appropriately for the services or the products that they are dispensing or providing to a patient. That’s really the number one challenge facing all of pharmacy. That’s not limited just to the independent community pharmacy.

Then there are other challenges that are specific to an independent community pharmacy. For example, they’re seeing a lot of narrow networks and preferred networks as payers are consolidating. Pharmacies are seeing a need to pick and choose which plans they’re going to be a part of by assessing whether the plans are compensating appropriately. Competition continues to be a challenge that independents face. Just by the nature of their business, they don’t have the same budget that big chains do.

CT: In light of these challenges, what was it that you were you excited to share with pharmacists at this year’s ThoughtSpot?

We were really excited to share our new Elevate provider network with our customers for the very first time. The network was formerly known as GNPPN, or the Good Neighbor Pharmacy Provider Network. Elevate is designed to provide advanced features to our customers that help with their pharmacy operations.

For example, let’s look at the reimbursement challenge. Pharmacies have to maximize their operation so that they’re getting every cent from every script that they’re filling. Through the advanced features available in Elevate, they’re going to be able to do that.

CT: What was the response you saw?

It was amazing. What we heard from customers is that we delivered a solution that they’ve been asking for and that they need. Most importantly, we heard that they value being able to use all of these functions through us as a one-stop shop, instead of having to contract with a variety of vendors for the different functionalities, such as pre- and post-edit and reconciliation. We have coordinated vendor management so that pharmacies participating in the Elevate program just have to work through us. It streamlines their operational practices and brings them up to speed with a number of industry best practices.

CT: Is the Elevate provider network available to all Good Neighbor Pharmacy members?

The way this new program is structured, we can now offer our premier level to just about every customer. And, we’ve seen a lot of success for our customers who are on the premier level of Good Neighbor Pharmacy based on some of the services we provide. Our service enables them to have a stronger and more profitable business. We were previously limited in being able to offer the premier level, because there was a pharmacy system requirement. Now that has been removed, thanks to the technology behind Elevate, we can offer this to just about anybody in the community pharmacy marketplace.

CT: Adopting all the best practices can be a real challenge when you’re being asked to do so much as an independent pharmacist, to work in your business and on your business at the same time. Streamlining the working-on-your-business aspect seems as if it’s really going to help to lift all boats in community pharmacy.

Absolutely. And, getting as many independents as possible up to speed with best practices is very important because of another big challenge that I didn’t mention earlier: the emerging pay-for-performance model. This means that pharmacies have to be performing at a certain level in order to be included in certain networks. This is a trend that we’re seeing expand. We obviously want our pharmacies to be profitable and successful from a financial standpoint, but we also want them to be successful from an adherence standpoint, and ultimately a Star rating standpoint. Tools within Elevate will help us do that.

CT: Performance measures really end up being where that need to work in the business and on the business converge in pharmacy. You’ve got to have the clinical skills and the business skills, and the technology to help you apply both.

Absolutely. One of the philosophies that we have at Good Neighbor Pharmacy is to provide our independent community pharmacies with tools they can use and resources they need to transform their businesses. We want to take the burden of the working on their business off of them. We are always looking for how we can give them tools to enable them to devote then their time to their patients and to working at the top of their degree from a clinical standpoint. We’re all in this to improve the quality of care that pharmacists are delivering to patients. If pharmacists are focused solely on running their businesses, it’s tougher to get focused on patients.

CT: What were some of the other things that came to your attention during ThoughtSpot? Did you hear anything from customers or while on the tradeshow floor and realize there’s a trend or an issue out there that you will want to address?

We’ve built a really solid foundation through the Elevate launch for the core prescription business. We think that we have a very strong asset in the marketplace with that program. So, now we’re looking at some other programs based on some of our customer feedback. For example, how can we help with building out the front end now that we’ve optimized your core business? How can we help you diversify revenue? That’s the topic of a lot of conversations we’re having. And, the premier level of Good Neighbor Pharmacy ties really well into that.

CT: Interesting, because while you’ve talked about addressing the challenges of running the pharmacy business, there are actually a whole other set of challenges when it comes to being a retailer.
That’s right. Through our Good Neighbor Pharmacy program, and in particular at the premier level, we have several tools that can help pharmacies make the front end more of a contributor to their overall bottom line. One of these programs is our business coaching program. When you look at any business, it’s only as successful as its associates or its employees. A core belief for is that we need to help our pharmacy owners enable their staff. 

The idea is to educate so you can delegate. We help our customers train their staff and identify associates who can own a part or all of the front end from a merchandising and stocking standpoint. These are the people who can then make sure the product is organized, set correctly, available, on the shelf, and clean. This is what helps create an environment that a patient wants to shop in. This concept of educating and delegating is a huge focus for us right now.

CT: I like that, educate so you can delegate, that’s very good. It’s one of those funny things that with so many tasks, while there’s a wide range of technology that you can deploy, in the end you it’s vitally important to get your people involved too. The technology can only go so far.

Yes. The business coach is a key catalyst for success for our premier level members. The coaches are experts who provide guidance through every step of the way. What they do first is they typically look at the core operations and the biggest expenses, labor, and inventory.

Then, they look at the particular needs of each pharmacy, using that pharmacy’s data and then benchmarking it with an appropriate peer data, which could be other pharmacies in a similar area, with similar patient base, and of a similar size. Based on this, we can set success factors for them, and we help them every step of the way to get to that successful place.

CT: That’s obviously where it’s so important to be part of a network like this where you have the analytical horsepower and then the group of pharmacies in the network as well that allows you to find the right ones to benchmark against.

It’s a little bit of a cliché, but it’s very true that there is power in numbers, particularly when it comes to independent pharmacy.

CT: That power in numbers seems as if it’s going to be very important for helping independent pharmacy raise the performance level. Where, ideally, would you see that trend taking pharmacy in the next two or three years, five years?

As we are increasing our performance and showing the healthcare industry the true value in pharmacy, we’re looking to achieve a number of things. First is the ability to contract with payers more effectively and negotiate better contracts for our customers. Additionally, I would hope that we can see pharmacists achieve provider status. We’re already on our way there, but if we can ultimately reach that point so that they can operate at the top of their degree and be an officially recognized partner in healthcare, that would be huge for us. I tend to think that this is where this is going. CT