AR you ready?
Augmented reality could break down patient care barriers
Even people who haven’t heard of augmented reality are probably familiar with its application in their daily lives. If they’ve played with Snapchat or Instagram filters, participated in the Pokémon GO craze or used digital tools from beauty companies to try before buying, they’ve used some form of AR. Fuse by Cardinal Health, the company’s innovation center, is exploring the role AR can play in patient care and showcased a prototype on the show floor at Cardinal Health RBC 2018.
“At Fuse by Cardinal Health, our explorations always start with the needs of the patient or user. Pharmacists are looking for tools that help them teach and coach patients about medication adherence,” Keith Gasper, principal engineer at Fuse by Cardinal Health, said.
According to an article on Essential Insights, an online publication sharing healthcare industry expertise from Cardinal Health, 51% of those 65 years and older take at least five prescription drugs regularly, and 63% of them say they forget their meds. Improving adherence should be a goal for all pharmacists, as adherence can lead to patients experiencing better outcomes, and nonadherence can result in revenue loss when prescriptions go unfilled.
“Augmented reality can be a powerful teaching tool for caregivers. Patients can understand complex topics related to their care through augmented reality aids that are visual, non-textual, three-dimensional and compelling,” Gasper continued.
At Cardinal Health RBC, Gasper and his team demonstrated how AR could be useful when taking medication. If patients had an AR-enabled tablet inside their medicine cabinet that could read medication labels, superimposing easy-to-understand 3-D graphics above the pill bottles with AR, it could help reinforce information that pharmacists want the patient to remember. This also could show auxiliary labels and medication schedule info, as well as warn against taking expired medication or highlight any potential interactions.
Gasper noted that this could be especially helpful in care transition situations when a patient gets home from a hospital visit overwhelmed with information and possible new treatment plans. These situations are the most fruitful for the nature of AR, he said. “Explaining how medications help your heart by using a visual, 3-D beating heart is more illustrative than using a drawing or pamphlet and is likely to be more memorable,” Gasper said.
On the show floor, the Fuse team was also interested in hearing from pharmacists about the potential uses they saw for AR in their pharmacies as a patient tool. Gasper said that they were particularly keen on its ability to bridge gaps in communication, possibly due to language barriers, in the pharmacy. Many suggested an in-store AR kiosk that would help patients find out more about products or the medication they’re taking.
With no requirement for specialized equipment, Gasper said, he sees a lot of potential in AR in a more straightforward way than other altered reality tools. “We are energized by AR because we can create powerful interactive experiences without the high barrier of entry that virtual reality or mixed reality require,” he said.
As technology continues to improve, Gasper said pharmacy tasks that can be manual or repetitive will become more commonly automated, leaving pharmacists better able to provide additional patient care services. As part of that, connectivity — integrating patient data from various sources and keeping it in one place — will be key for pharmacists and patients. Additionally, he said, home devices will be more connected. That leaves AR essentially at the intersection of connectivity and patient-facing tools.
“By taking familiar home devices and improving them through better connectivity and usability, we can help caregivers and families stay up-to-date on the status and health of their loved one,” Gasper said.
Leveling the playing field by engaging patients digitally
Increasingly, digital tools have become vital to attracting and retaining patients. Phil LaFoy, pharmacist and co-owner of Blount Discount Pharmacies, which has locations in Alcoa and Maryville, Tenn., said that digital tools — a website that allows for prescription refills and a mobile app with similar capabilities — are one of the main ways independent retail pharmacies can stay competitive.
“I’m always looking for something that’s going to help set me apart or level the playing field,” LaFoy said. “With technology such as it is today, there’s an expectation of web presence, of phone apps, texts when your medicine is ready — all that stuff the chains are doing.”
In an effort to better deliver these options to his patients, LaFoy joined a pilot program of Cardinal Health Pharmacy Marketing Advantage. Though he already had a website in place, the Pharmacy Marketing Advantage suite of tools, which is offered in partnership with Digital Pharmacist, brought new functionality to the Blount website, as well as a mobile app for patients looking for a more convenient way to fill prescriptions.
Besides offering patients information about the pharmacy and its services, which include point-of-care testing, immunizations and various wellness classes for diabetes management and smoking cessation, the Blount Pharmacy website also allows patients to request refills on maintenance medication and create a profile with their prescription information, as well as their entire family’s medication needs. LaFoy noted that the website and the app both store a patient’s medication information to make ordering refills easy. These tools have drawn high patient engagement, he said.
“As the use of the app and website starts to move upward, I’m seeing more and more refills coming in from the app,” LaFoy said. In the past roughly three months, he said, refill requests from the app have grown to make up about 40% of the electronic refill requests, with the rest coming from the website.
The website and app offer a round-the-clock option for ordering refills, which LaFoy said is a capability that helps put his pharmacies on par with larger competitors.
“If the community perceives I don’t have a service because we can’t afford it or we’re just not strong enough, that can cloud the deal a lot of the times,” he said. “Once we adjusted to that 24/7 mindset where customers can call in their refills online anytime so they’re ready when they get to the store, we created an opportunity for more face-to-face engagement to build stronger relationships with our patients.”
Also through Pharmacy Marketing Advantage, LaFoy sends out a weekly e-newsletter with product promotions and health information that can help build patient engagement and encourage use of the website and app. Benefits of this engagement include the ability to cross-promote the app on the site and to offer additional services — including flu shots — to patients. Knowing patient information such as birth date can also help LaFoy target patients who might be on Medicare Part D plans and benefit from adherence counseling. These benefits, LaFoy said, help better serve patients in the ways they expect to be served, making independents competitive with their larger national counterparts.
“Give me tools like this, and I’m competing head-to-head,” LaFoy said. “Once you level the technology playing field, I know who’s going to win because the people I’ve got in place and the service we bring is second to none.”
Click here to learn more about how this solution can help you digitally connect to your patients. If you’re attending Cardinal Health RBC 2018, you can visit the Pharmacy Marketing Advantage booth on the show floor.
Clearing the path to enter 340B
For retail independent pharmacists, participating in a 340B program can help increase access to affordable medications, strengthen the pharmacy’s relationship with its community and provide an alternative revenue stream. But the opportunity — in which pharmacies dispense drugs for such covered entities as hospitals and clinics that are able to purchase certain outpatient drugs at a discounted price — also can pose a host of administrative and logistical hurdles.
However, Daniel Neal, director of 340B product and service marketing at Cardinal Health, said that being educated before embarking on a 340B partnership to fully understand the impact it will have on how a pharmacy business functions is the main pathway to success.
“The first thing I always stress when I’m talking to a pharmacy owner is to take the time to educate yourself about this program before jumping into it, because it is rather complicated,” he said. “A lot of it initially may seem counterintuitive to someone who’s not familiar with it.”
He noted that financial modeling can be beneficial to forecast the financial implications of an agreement, and that the main source of revenue in these agreements, called a dispensing fee, differs from the dispensing fees pharmacists might be accustomed to, both in their amount and their source — namely, the covered entity. Neal stressed the importance of a pharmacy setting a dispensing fee that will properly compensate them for the work they do, revisiting it as needed.
Additionally, he said that inventory management often poses a challenge due to the nature of the partnership, in which the covered entity purchases the drugs, but pharmacies dispense them. The requirements that accompany maintaining a parallel inventory, whether physical, replenishment or a hybrid, alongside the pharmacy’s existing inventory can pose a difficulty, as can ensuring claim amounts are accurate — particularly from a personnel and infrastructure standpoint.
“While a lot of 340B models will pitch themselves as turnkey, the reality is for the program to be successful, it will require the pharmacy to have ongoing involvement,” Neal said. In particular, pharmacies are tasked with ensuring their 340B claim amounts are accurate to prevent inadvertently passing through dollars that are not in concert with the adjudicated amount. Pharmacies also may find themselves asked to play a role in “tagging” claims for certain payers, especially Medicaid managed care plans.
Recognizing that entering a 340B partnership can be a daunting task for independent pharmacists, Neal noted that Cardinal Health has resources in place for its customers.
“Cardinal Health is very aware of the needs of our retail independent pharmacies, including those that are considering or actively participating in 340B, so we’re always looking to understand how we might meet as many of their needs as possible,” Neal said, noting that Cardinal Health has a dedicated team of 340B account specialists who can assist with distribution contracting elements, licensure questions and account integration setup.
In an effort to further support its retail independent customers working in the 340B space, Cardinal Health’s Retail Pharmacy Marketing team collaborated with ProviderPay to introduce 340B Direct. This service, being introduced to retail pharmacists at Cardinal Health RBC, is intended to help guide pharmacy owners through the 340B process as efficiently and correctly as possible.
Neal said the service will help pharmacy owners go beyond the implementation process and continue to assist them with their 340B model, as well as navigate marketing their services to 340B covered entities who might be in the market for a pharmacy partner.
“Many of the covered entities I interact with express interest in and even their individual preference for working with local community independent pharmacies for contract pharmacy models,” Neal said. “I think a solution like 340B Direct might bring some organization and consistency to how our independent pharmacy customers interact with the covered entities that will bring a little more standardization, clarity and confidence.”
Click here to learn more about how this service can help you implement 340B in your pharmacy. If you’re attending Cardinal Health RBC 2018, you can visit the 340B Direct booth on the show floor.