What if you had to fill every prescription bottle and write out every prescription label by hand? No pill counter. No printer. That’s what it would be like if your chain pharmacy tried to run all its clinical programs across all locations manually. Yet, many pharmacies do.

A better way – and one that can deliver better clinical results for your patients and better business results for your pharmacy – is to use technology to run your clinical programs.

Let me remind you of the operational challenges your chain pharmacy would face if you tried to run your clinical programs manually. I’ll explain how your pharmacy can use technology to overcome those challenges. And I’ll list some of the criteria to look for when choosing a technology solution for your pharmacy.

Operationalizing your clinical programs

First of all, there are several clinical programs you can optimize using technology. If your chain pharmacy is like most, those programs generally fall into four categories:

  • Adherence. These are programs that you run to identify patients who aren’t taking their drugs as prescribed. You can then take steps to increase their adherence.
  • Medications. These are ones that you run to ensure patients are on the right medications and to address any concerns they may have. This includes things like medication therapy management, targeted intervention programs and comprehensive medication reviews (CMRs).
  • Disease management. These are the programs that you run to help patients with chronic illness manage their own health. This may include services like nutritional counseling and patient education.
  • Vaccines. These are the programs that you run to immunize your patients from diseases. You can include offerings like seasonal flu shot programs and aged-based routine vaccine programs.

Regardless of the type of program, they all present the same challenge to your pharmacy. How do you operationalize them? Operationalizing them typically requires four things:

  • Identifying the patients who would benefit from your program
  • Interacting with each eligible patient in a consistent manner
  • Documenting each interaction or visit with a patient in a consistent manner
  • Billing patients’ health plans for the covered services in your program

Manual execution slows clinical programs

When many chain pharmacies start their clinical programs, they try to do those four things manually. They use pen and paper. They print out and read through spreadsheets. They try to use workarounds in their pharmacy management systems. And they all struggle to make their programs work.

They struggle to make them work because running clinical programs manually can lead to potential errors and omissions. For example, it’s challenging to identify in real time a patient who’s not adherent to their drug. It’s unworkable to ask every patient who comes up to the counter.

Another challenge is capturing the same clinical information from each patient because the messaging from your staff may vary across your sites. Without technology, you wouldn’t have a surefire way to uniformly execute and document your patient encounters across all locations. And if your processes and documentation are inconsistent, you might not know if your programs are working. Without that knowledge, it would be hard to bill for your services and expect health plans to pay you.

As you can see, running your clinical programs manually shortchanges you and your patients. A better way to do it is with technology. Technology can automate and simplify each of the four things you need to do to run a successful clinical program.

Matching patients to your chain pharmacy

The first thing technology can do is identify patients who are right for your clinical programs. Let’s say it’s an adherence program. You can run a program that ranks patients by their PDC, or proportion of days covered, to identify candidates for your adherence programs. Or, let’s say it’s disease management. You can run a program that identifies patients diagnosed with a chronic illness or who are taking drugs to manage a chronic illness. These patients may be candidates for your disease management programs.

You can reach out to these adherence or disease management patients directly. Or, you can set up alerts in your pharmacy management software that notify you when one of these patients is at your counter, and you can engage them at the point of service.

Technology can also help your staff engage with those patients consistently. That means engaging the same type of patient in the same way at every encounter at every one of your pharmacies. Technology can give your staff the same script to read, the same questions to ask and the same information and data points to capture. That can also help your staff become skilled at identifying gaps in care or discrepancies between a patient’s medical condition and their medication regimen.

Clinical program reporting and billing

That leads to the next benefit of technology, and that’s documentation. As your staff interacts with each patient, they are documenting that interaction in the same way, using the same fields to collect the same information and data. With all that information and data collected regularly and uniformly, you can create reports that show how your programs are performing and how their performance changes over time.

For example, are your adherence rates up? Are your CMR completion rates up? And, are you running your clinical programs with the same or less staffing? As a chain pharmacy, you can compare individual pharmacies or regional groups of pharmacies. You can’t improve if you don’t know how you’re doing.

And you can’t bill if you can’t document what you did. Technology can automate your billing process if the clinical services you provide are covered under a patient’s health benefits plan. You already have the documentation. Now all you have to do is click a few more buttons to send in a claim.

What technology is really doing is making it possible for your pharmacy to provide the best possible care to your patients. It enables your pharmacists to practice at the top of their licenses. And it helps you keep your patients as healthy as possible by improving their adherence and medication use and by helping them manage their chronic illnesses.

The right technology for your chain pharmacy

Considering those important benefits to you and your patients, it’s critical to pick the right technology for your pharmacy. Here are 10 features I think are necessary. You want a clinical program technology platform that:

  • Can identify patient populations dynamically
  • Can provide in-workflow messaging to patients
  • Is user-friendly and intuitive for your staff to operate
  • Is flexible enough to reflect how you prioritize your programs
  • Can create customized clinical programs unique to you
  • Securely stores and protects your data in a data warehouse
  • Can create standardized and custom performance reports
  • Is cloud-based to speed deployment across your sites
  • Can integrate with your PMS and other existing technologies
  • Is built using the latest and greatest programming software

Investing in the right technology is really an investment in patient care. Their health is your return on investment.

Related: Learn more about McKesson’s clinical program solution for pharmacies

Ian Fallon

About the author

Ian Fallon is vice president of clinical programs for McKesson Prescription Technology Solutions. In this role Ian has responsibility for the development and adoption of clinical programs across McKesson’s technology portfolio. Ian has been with McKesson since 2002 with varying levels of sales and sales leadership responsibility. He is a graduate of West Virginia University with a degree in Environmental Science and Business.