Employee Voices

The Crusade for Access

Learn how pharmacist Ram Arumugam is helping health systems improve the continuum of care for their patients.

Read time: 4 minutes

When it comes to patient outcomes, access to quality care can mean the difference between life and death.

It’s a fact Ram Arumugam knows all too well. And it’s why today, he’s using his personal experience to protect much-needed patient access through his role at McKesson.

His story begins in his home country of Malaysia. Within a year of starting pharmacy school, his mother fell gravely ill. She needed a kidney transplant, but due to his family’s socioeconomic standing, his family struggled to get her the care she needed.

“Unfortunately, we did not have good access to care at that time,” he explains. “So I had one mission while I was in pharmacy school – to study as much as I could for my mom.”

He turned to every resource available to him to find a way to keep her alive. He spent hours researching her condition beyond the scope of pharmacy. He knocked on his professors’ doors. He went as far as to visit the national transplant registry in person multiple times to ask where his mother was on the list and plead for her.

Ram Arumugam  

Sadly, his mother didn’t make it. But rather than be consumed in his grief, his wife – a fellow student, then – encouraged him to turn the same passion he had for helping his mother into fighting for other patients to receive equitable care and access to the medications they need.

That calling became his crusade. In 2007, he moved to Baltimore and began working as a pharmacy intern in a health system-based retail pharmacy that was located in lower socioeconomic neighborhood. He eventually became the pharmacy manager – a position that allowed him to exhaust all avenues available to help patients start and stay adherent to their medications. He called patients’ doctors and, on occasion, went so far as to walk the patient to the clinic when they encountered medication refill issues. He worked tirelessly to negotiate with insurance companies to address access-related challenges such as prior authorization and patient financial assistance.

A few years later, he continued his journey with a specialty chain pharmacy located within a major health system, where he continued training others on how to navigate the industry.

“In order to provide better care while also staying viable in the industry, you can’t focus solely on your clinical expertise,” he explains. “You have to also think about the business side – you need a better understanding of the broader ecosystem. I developed and mentored many pharmacists on how to succeed in doing so.”

Capitalizing on his prior leadership in specialty chain pharmacy operations, he joined McKesson in 2022 in a role that allowed him to share his expertise with health systems customers.

In health systems, outpatient retail pharmacies provide patients with a steadier continuum of care once they’re discharged from the hospital. Unlike most chain pharmacies, outpatient retail pharmacies are able to deliver not just medications, but also direct provider access with a nurse or doctor within the health system in which the patient was treated.

One of the more often talked about components of patient care within health systems concerns the effects of patient leakage, which is that break in the continuum of care when patients seek services outside the health system network. But another issue is losing patients to non-adherence – patients not coming back to the hospital system, or if they do, coming back in a more chronic state.

As a pharmacist responsible for payer access and customer experience on the Health System’s strategic marketing team, Ram leads value-added solutions for health systems customers nationwide. His strategic role within McKesson Health Systems is dedicated to driving pharmacy profitability through the breadth of McKesson-connected solutions, tailormade for the health system in the areas of ambulatory care, retail, specialty, and beyond.

In his advisory role, Ram works to help health systems provide much-needed pharmacy access for patients by guiding them on how to stay viable in outpatient retail pharmacy, addressing issues like patient leakage and prescription capture, all while ensuring patient continuum of care.

And while he may no longer work directly with patients in this role, his dedication to outstanding care has never wavered. Ram continues to advocate for patient access, supporting outpatient pharmacies from conception to reality so they are fully equipped to provide patients with timely, effective and efficient care.

“If health systems start closing pharmacies due to payer restrictions, economy of scale or other issues, then they risk taking access away from patients,” he explains. “I’m not going to let that happen. My job is to make sure that hospitals and health systems stay in business, especially in rural and lower socioeconomic areas.”

For Ram, protecting patient access to care is another way he’s keeping his mother’s legacy alive.

“I strongly believe in what every health system’s retail pharmacy and specialty pharmacy is doing today,” he says. “And that’s continuing the crusade for access.”