The Pharmacy Technology Forecast

Cover Story: Trends in 2018

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2018 is just about here, and most pharmacies will have already been thinking about strategy for the coming year. What will the key trends be? Where are the best places to put investment? How can you get more out of technology investments you’ve already made? And what markets will be growing and offering new revenue opportunities? Here we take a look at what a number of pharmacy technology vendors see as the priorities for 2018.

Trends for 2018

Pressures on the traditional prescription-dispensing business will continue unabated, and pharmacies will face further constraints from restricted networks. In this setting, Tim Tannert, SoftWriters VP and COO, notes that pay for performance is a trend to keep on the radar.

He points out that, while it may not be the norm in the industry right now, it’s definitely the direction healthcare as a whole seems to be headed, and pharmacies should be actively preparing by making the tools needed for a value-based provision of care a top priority.

Tabula Rasa Healthcare President Orsula Knowlton also sees a need to be forward-thinking here. In Knowlton‘s view, value-based care will provide many opportunities for pharmacists that will enable them to focus on outcomes in addition to the process of pharmacy services.

Hemal Desai, President, BestRx
Brian Glaves, ScriptPro, Director of Sales
Brian Glaves, ScriptPro, Director of Sales

Hemal Desai, BestRx Pharmacy Software, PresidentBestRx Pharmacy Software President Hemal Desai suggests that pharmacists will also want to make sure they are focusing on the need for a broad portfolio of enhanced services to offer their patients, ranging from immunizations to medication therapy management (MTM) consultations, to med sync, and more. And, notes Tabula Rasa Healthcare‘s Knowlton, there will be a need for pharmacies to proceed with a view toward collaborating with health plans to manage medication safety and overall medication-related outcomes.

Tim Tannert, SoftWriters, VP and COO
Tim Tannert, SoftWriters, VP and COO
Orsula Knowlton, Pharm.D., Tabula Rasa Healthcare, President

Brian Glaves, director of sales at ScriptPro, sees a pressing need to address the continuing impact of DIR (direct and indirect remuneration) fees with tools that can identify and predict these clawbacks and empower pharmacies to address them at the point of adjudication on specific scripts rather than after the fact. It comes down to having a fine-grained understanding of where your prescription revenues and margins are, with a great deal of value to be gained from having a good grasp of which payers and customers are most valuable. This knowledge can lead pharmacies to implement patient engagement strategies that strengthen those relationships and make better-informed decisions. Pharmacies need to make every effort, notes RxMedic Marketing Coordinator William Humphries, to look for ways to generate more revenue by serving these patients better.

As an example, Mike Gross, VP of sales and marketing for Retail Management Solutions, says pharmacies can build their front-end revenues by focusing on complementary items that address areas such as nutrient depletion and that can be a way to both provide better care and increase the spend within a pharmacy. It’s even possible that pharmacies might offer further convenience by including these OTCs in the adherence packs provided to patients.

William Humphries, RxMedic, Marketing Coordinator
William Humphries, RxMedic, Marketing Coordinator
Vic Vercammen, Supplylogix, VP of Strategy and Industry Relations
Vic Vercammen, Supplylogix, VP of Strategy and Industry Relations

Another trend identified by Dave Bartel, senior vice president at TCGRx, and Vic Vercammen, vice president of strategy and industry relations at Supplylogix, is the rise of tools traditionally used by consumers in other retail settings to assess the value of a pharmacy. For example, patients are increasingly looking to social media for information about pharmacies and for their friends’ ratings of their experience with a business. Pharmacies should be sure to understand this dynamic so that they are seen as a recommended provider and, according to Bartel, take active steps to lead the discussion and highlight the support they are providing patients and caregivers. For example, a pharmacy may want to educate online visitors about how it supports care for aging parents through services such as med sync or adherence packaging. 

Jeremy Manchester, Liberty Software, EVP 
Jeremy Manchester, Liberty Software, EVP
Mike Gross, Retail Management Solutions
Mike Gross, VP of Sales and Marketing, Retail Management Solutions

AmerisourceBergen Director of Pharmacy Systems Solutions Bob Jones and Micro Merchant’s Ketan Mehta spoke specifically of patient engagement in their responses, with Jones emphasizing the need for multichannel communications with patients, ranging from voice to apps. Look for ways to provide patients with the opportunity for self-service, recommends Jones, whether through apps, web portals, or other tools. Mehta sees a return coming from patient engagement technologies as they maximize touchpoints with patients and pharmacies employ data mining to identify needs and gaps in business opportunities and care, which can then in turn serve as the basis for targeted patient interactions and communications.

Liberty Software EVP Jeremy Manchester sees pharmacies wanting to be sure that any new technology they invest in is ready to support living in this connected healthcare world by, for example, connecting pharmacies to healthcare networks via direct secure messaging and bidirectional exchange of information about e-prescriptions and clinical interventions. Connecting pharmacists to the larger healthcare ecosystem is a necessary step toward achieving provider status, according to Manchester.

See What You’ve Got

But what about pharmacies getting more out of the investments they’ve already made?

The good news here, according to Micro Merchant’s Ketan Mehta, is that most pharmacists will find a great many tools ready at hand, including some that they may be paying extra for from an external service. For example, he recommends looking within your current pharmacy system for the tools to manage MTM opportunities, to run med sync programs, for texting and outbound calling, and even for recommending complementary medication purchases. He sees plenty of opportunity for pharmacists to use what they have to meet strategic needs and address the trends in 2018.

Terry Cater, PerceptiMed, VP of Sales and Marketing
Terry Cater, PerceptiMed, VP of Sales and Marketing
Phil Idziak, PharmSaver, CIO
Phil Idziak, PharmSaver, CIO

One theme that was clear from the responses this year is that better use of pharmacy data and business analytics can really help drive value across existing platforms and across the pharmacy enterprise. Look in your existing system for the analytics and reporting tools you have yet to really deploy.

An example comes from SoftWriters’ Tim Tannert, who sees better use of business analytics in 2018 addressing eroding margins and increasing demands on pharmacy resources. In Tannert’s view, there are many operational and financial decisions that can and should be made with data in today’s pharmacy.

CSS’s James Notaro also sees better use of the wealth of data in prescription databases as an underused asset in most pharmacies. One suggestion: Look for tools within your pharmacy system or patient engagement platforms to address the fact that patients are generally only 70% adherent with their medications, at best. Up-to-date pharmacy platforms should be able to identify and remediate adherence gaps, for example via dashboards and adherence packaging calendars.

Justin Buckland, QS/1, Market Analyst
Justin Buckland, QS/1, Market Analyst
Kevin Welch President, Integra LTC Solutions, and CTO, J.M. Smith
Kevin Welch, President, Integra LTC Solutions, and CTO, J.M. Smith

And, as improved patient engagement can impact adherence and boost pharmacy performance, BestRx’s Hemal Desai notes that most modern pharmacy systems have strong automated text and email support for reminders and refill notices, but that pharmacies can be slow to use these features. This despite the fact that these are tools that can easily increase the number of fills per year by a patient, and as a result improve both adherence and revenue. As Liberty Software’s Jeremy Manchester put it, patient messaging is an automation that can require very little effort to implement, while delivering outstanding results.

AmerisourceBergen’s Bob Jones notes that pre- and postedits are still not used widely enough, particularly in the independent market. Jones notes that pharmacies almost certainly have technology in place or a contract with a service that can provide these services, which can be critical for ensuring clean claims and managing reimbursements.

Marty Spellman, from Health Business Systems, notes that pharmacies should take another look at the financial reporting and inventory management capabilities in their systems, and then ask how they can use automation whenever possible to help handle the workload on the business end of things.

For example, QS/1 Market Analyst Justin Buckland recommends keying on the tools you have for inventory management, both in the pharmacy and in the front end. This insight can boost turns and make more efficient use of dollars in one of a pharmacy’s greatest cost centers.

You can find the tools for this within the reporting and analytics in your existing systems, both prescription focused and front end. For example, Retail Management Solutions’ Mike Gross points to the variety of tools in a pharmacy’s point-of-sale system that can improve front-end inventory turns, with real benefits even for pharmacies with smaller front ends. It’s by bringing a level of precision to purchasing that pharmacies prevent overbuying, while at the same time addressing revenue loss from out-of-stock situations, according to Gross. Data pulled from a POS system can also help pharmacies make more intelligent decisions about, for example, the value of promotions they run.

Looking for New Revenue? Here’s Some Advice:

  • Identify where there’s value in what you already do and look to capitalize on it.
  • Build marketing and services around wearable technologies that can help you stay abreast of patients’ well-being.
  • Research areas gaining traction for clinical services or specialty dispensing, such as dermatology, oncology, and gastroenterology.
  • Build your appointment-based services.
  • Consider curbside service and e-commerce, as well as delivery if you aren’t offering it already.
  • Give 340B another look.
  • Ask your pharmacy vendor about data collection programs.
  • Get into or expand immunizations, leveraging technology to identify eligible patients.
  • Keep an eye out for opportunities that develop out of the enhanced MTM model pilot.

Datascan President Kevin Minassian also encourages independent pharmacies to stop ignoring OTC items while focusing on filling prescriptions. His advice? Use POS reports to see what’s moving and what’s not, dive into pharmacy customer demographics, and look for the data that can help tie more OTC sales and promotions to prescription volume.

Kevin Minassian, Datascan, President
Kevin Minassian, Datascan, President
Bob Jones AmerisourceBergen, Director of Pharmacy Systems Solutions
Bob Jones,
AmerisourceBergen, Director of Pharmacy Systems Solutions

As pharmacies better analyze their data, ScriptPro’s Brian Glaves suggests looking at a suite of tools that most pharmacies have in place — including mobile apps and other communications channels such as IVR (interactive voice response), as well as web-based advertising through Google or social media — to help ramp up marketing efforts with a focus on what the data tells you is important to your customers. TCGRx’s Dave Bartel points out that it is particularly important for a pharmacy to look for ways to leverage social media, including Facebook and Twitter, to increase consumer awareness about what it offers. Getting a good handle on what your data says about your customers is an important first step in making sure you are communicating the right messages to the right people on these platforms, by matching your demographics to the fine-grained message-targeting tools that social media platforms offer.

Dave Bartel, TCGRx, Senior Vice President
Dave Bartel,
TCGRx, Senior Vice President
Jessica Haider, Epicor Software, Senior Pharmacy Business Development Representative
Jessica Haider,
Epicor Software, Senior Pharmacy Business Development Representative

And don’t forget about technology to support delivery, a key service for many patients. Integra LTC Solutions’ Kevin Welch points to delivery management as an area of pharmacy operation that remains overlooked, despite the fact that potential market disruptors, such as Amazon, have homed in on delivery as being a primary competitive advantage.

Finally, Datascan’s Minassian recommends taking a good look at your existing platforms for solutions that play well in the mobile world. Minassian notes that, deployed and promoted to patients correctly, mobile can address everything that should be important for a pharmacy, including convenience for customers and the impact that greater engagement can have on building performance measures such as star ratings by driving adherence.

Watch List

What to watch for in 2018 follows on closely from the trends and areas of investment. Several vendors responded that the focus will be on the baby boomer generation, both in long-term care settings and for home care. Pharmacy should also look for ways to support caregivers, thereby creating strategic long-term relationships not just with the patient, but also with the family members or other care providers who are key allies for the pharmacy.

Other areas to watch include recently discharged patients, for whom pharmacies will want to look to provide continuity-of-care services, and patients with disease states that have special needs. In both these areas, there will be a real demand for excellent pharmacy service and disease state management.

Then there will also be a continued need to consider diversifying pharmacy services beyond the standard retail model, for example through DME (durable medical equipment), specialty, compounding, or immunizations. And then there are emerging areas, such as pharmacogenomics, point-of-care testing, and in-pharmacy basic medical care. There are relatively few resources currently available to address these areas, notes one respondent, and they are not practice models that are simply adopted in a matter of months. Instead it will require a mindset change, with measured effort to build these opportunities into a pharmacy’s protocols and workflow, and proper staffing and training.

Getting Going for 2018

Plenty to think about, and plenty to do, as always for pharmacy. A long-term view on strategy should be an ongoing aspect of every pharmacy’s operations, and it’s certainly time for getting going on goals for the coming year. These results from our 2018 forecast survey have hopefully given you a fresh view from the vendor’s perspective, and offered an opportunity to review your goals within a broader context. CT

Will Lockwood is Vice President/Senior Editor at ComputerTalk. He can be reached at will@computertalk.com.

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