Certifying specialty pharmacy care

Countless industries are continuously updating and retooling their approaches to production, organization, communication, training and other systemic procedures to keep up with ever-changing landscapes. The specialty pharmacy industry is no different and, in fact, has reached a critical point when it comes to training, qualifying and educating the growing number of pharmacists practicing in this complex area.

To treat such chronic diseases as cancer, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, specialty drugs can require special handling, distribution and administration.

Specialty drugs require special handling, distribution and administration to treat such diseases as cancer, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Due largely to a robust pipeline of new biologics, additional indications on existing medications and innovative drug therapies for medical conditions previously untreated, specialty pharmacy has rapidly become one of the fastest-growing segments in pharmacy. And its projected growth is staggering. U.S. spending on specialty prescription drugs is projected to increase 67% by the end of 2015, according to Express Scripts. Prescription drug spending on eight of the top 10 specialty therapy classes will continue to increase over the next three years, and what was a $90 billion market in 2012 is projected to grow to more than $100 billion in 2013. While these dollars are spent in about 3% to 5% of the population, they will account for more than 55% of total pharmacy costs, according to CuraScript.

These statistics are expected to rise along with the aging population and increases in such age-related diseases as Alzheimer’s disease, cancer and cardiovascular diseases. This tremendous growth signals that the specialty pharmacy industry must make available to its pharmacists and to important stakeholders — including patients — a standardized, uniform tool for ensuring highly qualified, highly trained professionals: professional certification. It’s essential to public health, to the growth of the industry and its partner industries, and to general healthcare resource management that specialty pharmacists become as knowledgeable and competent as possible within the space of high-cost, highly managed drugs — and that they learn to keep the pace with the ever-evolving technology.

Certification programs ensure specialty pharmacists possess the most up-to-date skills — something that benefits all sectors of the industry, as well as public health. To the individual pharmacist, certification provides the opportunity to sharpen existing skills and prove to employers a dedication to their craft, to patients and to the evolving industry. On the flip side, those who choose to forgo certification — and the education and training associated with the certification criteria and process — may not be able to withstand the demands of innovation and risk being under-qualified for such expectations. To those who employ specialty pharmacists, certification offers a systematic procedure for proving competency — ensuring continued confidence from healthcare institutions — and processes for developing and securing top talent within the industry. Industrywide, certification helps create standards to enhance quality and establishes new benchmarks that elevate patient care and safety, reinforcing confidence in where the industry is headed.

And the certification ball is moving. Already we are seeing the demand for certification-like programs, largely from payers who are eager to work with accredited pharmacies employing only cutting-edge technologies and the highest-trained staff. Universities also are seeking training programs to help prepare aspiring pharmacists in the area of high-cost, complex pharmaceuticals. Indeed, certification will become an important benchmark as this rising industry continues to evolve and become more relevant, providing an important educational point of reference and a track record of competent experienced staff.

To fill these growing demands, the specialty pharmacy industry is working diligently to make available certification opportunities. One such opportunity is the Certified Specialty Pharmacist. Available through the Specialty Pharmacy Certification Board, the certification program provides verifiable evidence of proficiency in all aspects of specialty pharmacy practice. Administered twice yearly in April and October, CSP was created by industry experts using a nationally recognized certification program and examination development process, providing an objective method for measuring the knowledge and ability of specialty pharmacists.

Such credentials as the CSP are a key indicator to employers, manufacturers, patients, payers, other healthcare providers and the general public that a professional is an expert in specialty pharmaceuticals and demonstrates proficiency in specialty pharmacy management duties in a variety of practice settings. It’s critical that individual specialty pharmacists and the industry as a whole embrace certification to help ensure a dedicated work force is keeping pace with inevitable growth and the technological and scientific advancements that come with it. With the continued expansion in the marketplace and the demand placed on high-cost, complex pharmaceuticals, those involved with specialty pharmacy must commit to bettering their careers and their skills sets by investigating and completing certification. If you’re connected in any way to specialty pharmacy, or wish to be, it’s that important.

Gary Rice, RPh, holds a Master of Science degree and MBA, and serves as both board president of the Specialty Pharmacy Certification Board and VP of clinical services at Diplomat Specialty Pharmacy.


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