It takes more than a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down. Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston is adding a heaping cup of technology to the recipe for better patient medication adherence.

The head chef is Karen Ryle, associate chief of pharmacy/ambulatory care for the prominent academic medical center, which is a founding member of Partners Healthcare in Boston. Ryle oversees three outpatient pharmacies that fill nearly 1,200 prescriptions per day. The pharmacies fill prescriptions for outpatients, patients to be discharged from the hospital and hospital employees.

Of that pool of customers, though, Ryle identifies her primary customer as the uninsured or underinsured in the hospital’s service area. These patients struggle with geographic, financial, personal or other barriers that may inhibit their ability to get a needed prescription filled or refilled. They also need education on how to properly use their medications.

“The same customer expectations from the retail world should be part of the pharmacy experience.”

For Ryle, the patient job to be done is improving the medication adherence of the hospital’s most vulnerable patients. She’s accomplishing this through the use of innovative new technologies that transform the relationship between prescriber and patient.

“Technology has become the great enabler for us to better serve these patients,” Ryle says.

Massachusetts General will roll out a mobile pharmacy solution called “mscripts” licensed from McKesson this year. The mobile platform will allow patients to refill their prescriptions via smart phone app in addition to receiving pick up and refill reminders, discount information and a personal history of prescription medication use.  

Also this year, the hospital will pilot a “meds to beds” program that will deliver prescribed medications to a patient’s bedside prior to that patient being discharged. The program will eliminate the need for newly discharged patients to drop off or call in their prescriptions after leaving the hospital — a step many patients don’t take after they leave the four walls of the hospital.

Under the program, members of the hospital’s pharmacy staff will visit a patient in his or her room prior to discharge to fill a prescription on site. The program requires the hospital to be able to marry a patient’s electronic health record with his or her electronic financial information in order to charge the patient the right amount for the medication based on insurance status. Wireless technology enables that transaction at the point of sale.

Another technology the hospital is considering is the installation of medication-dispensing kiosks in highly trafficked areas of the hospital’s campus. The kiosks would be available to employees only and eliminate the need for them to use another and less convenient method for getting a common prescription filled.

While technology is the enabler for Massachusetts General, a new consumer-centric mindset is the driver, according to Ryle. 

“The same customer expectations from the retail world should be part of the pharmacy experience,” Ryle says.

Improving medication adherence by itself betters the health status of patients and lowers the overall cost of care by eliminating unnecessary trips to the doctor or hospital. But Ryle says Massachusetts General also recognizes that better health and better business go hand in hand and that her hospital can only benefit from the changes being made along with patients.

The planned strategies will increase pharmacy revenue for the hospital by virtue of patients filling and refilling more prescriptions. Increased medication adherence will increase the hospital’s patient satisfaction scores and increase the hospital’s reimbursement from certain payers. And increased medication adherence will help reduce avoidable readmissions, which can reduce a hospital’s Medicare reimbursement.

"Technological innovations are allowing us to do everything we can to make sure patients have the medications they need to keep them as healthy as possible,” Ryle says.

Innovator Insight: Healthcare leaders who want to innovate should identify a corresponding transaction, interaction or exchange in the retail world and study how retailers made the customer the center of that transaction, interaction or exchange and built solutions to best serve the needs of those customers. Then they need to apply those lessons to healthcare.