Ask an Expert: The Importance of Specialty Pharmacies

A deeper dive into why health systems have continued to expand into specialty pharmacy.


By McKesson Health Systems Editorial Team

Read time: 3 minutes

Health systems are continuing to expand into specialty pharmacy. In a discussion with Barbara Giacomelli, vice president of Advisory Solutions for McKesson Pharmacy Optimization, we learn why the growth in this space has remained steady and what the benefits are to patients as well as health systems.

Q: The number of health systems that own an integrated specialty pharmacy has continued to sharply increase over the past five years. From a broad perspective, why is it important to focus on specialty, and why now?

A: Specialty drugs on the market are used to treat complex, rare or chronic conditions. These medications are important in providing optimal patient care needs, and the growth likely will continue. Health systems recognize the economic benefits of opening or expanding specialty pharmacy services, and even more importantly, how they meet clinical patient care needs by helping to reduce patient leakage – patients seeking healthcare services outside of the hospital network, or not as recommended.

Q: What are the benefits to patients when it comes to accessing specialty medications from a hospital pharmacy vs. an outside one?

A: For the patient, the primary benefits of using a hospital-based specialty pharmacy are convenience and the clinical expertise of a pharmacist providing the continuum of care. Working across the continuum for providing care to patients, the on-site specialty pharmacy provides an opportunity to meet and improve value-based patient care needs while generating revenue.

Q: What benefits does an on-site specialty pharmacy provide to health systems?

A: A health system-operated specialty pharmacy offers the convenience of an on-site location compared to a remote pharmacy. It also provides “high touch” services and the ability to meet manufacturer and pharmacy benefit managers’ requirements through access to patients’ medical records. With “white bagging” increasing, the hospital-operated specialty pharmacy can offer clear bagging, when the health system’s specialty pharmacy delivers medication to the clinic, because of being on-site. For providers, the on-site specialty pharmacy supports patient management.

Q: Let’s talk about McKesson, specifically. McKesson announced a collaboration earlier this year with Vanderbilt Health Rx Solutions, LLC (VHRxS) to “provide specialty pharmacy growth and implementation services to health systems nationwide.” What does this mean/what can customers and patients expect from this partnership?

A: Recognizing that health systems need guidance and advisory support through their journey in specialty pharmacy, McKesson partnered with VHRxS. The VHRxS team’s history of success in specialty pharmacy will help us better meet health system customers’ needs.

McKesson’s pharmacy leaders and the VHRxS team of experienced, hands-on advisors understand the needs and challenges of health system specialty pharmacies. The teams have deep experience working with health systems in all stages of growth, from developing and implementing initial specialty pharmacy growth strategies to optimizing existing operations to reach the next level.

Q: Are there any challenges integrated specialty pharmacies face? How do health systems tackle those?

A: The challenges health systems with specialty pharmacies face include access to limited distribution drugs, payer access, and meeting documentation and outcome requirements. There are specific requirements specialty pharmacies must meet in order for drug manufacturers and/or payers to approve the pharmacy to fill certain prescriptions. Having pharmacists embedded in clinics can help expedite the approval process. Specialty pharmacy call centers are also critical to expediting the authorization process, providing follow-up to ensure patient compliance and management of challenges such as prescription cost and management of drug side effects. McKesson works with health system customers to overcome these challenges and meet clinic patient care needs while also seeing economic success.

Learn more about how we’re advancing the mission of health system specialty pharmacies.