Central fill workflow management gets smart
Pharmacy is no longer solely a volume-based business. As healthcare expenditures rise and controlling costs become an imperative, payers are increasingly tying their reimbursements to patient outcomes, which has allowing pharmacists to flex their clinical muscles. But increased clinical opportunities for pharmacists have had to come alongside a sustained — and ideally increased — volume of prescription fills.
As a result, retail chains are turning to a central fill model, with one location servicing dozens if not hundreds of stores. Pittsburgh-based supermarket chain Giant Eagle is no stranger to central fill, using it in one form or another for roughly 18 years, according to Matt Niskach, the chain’s senior director of pharmacy central services. Niskach said that Giant Eagle has taken a revamped approach to its central fill facility — which services 200 of its locations across Pennsylvania and Ohio — in the past three years, installing six central fill robots, PharmASSIST RDSx systems, from provider Innovation.
Because automation can only do so much on its own, Niskach said Giant Eagle also has implemented Innovation’s PharmASSIST Symphony workflow management platform. According to Innovation officials, Symphony is designed to be the adaptive brain of a high-volume central fill site that can adapt to the numerous changes in workflow that are caused by changes in demand.
“What we’ve found is that the dynamics of prescription fulfillment demand is extremely variable,” Innovation director of software systems engineering Alecia Lashier said.
As a result of constantly changing demand and workflow needs, Lashier said Innovation realized that a rudimentary first-in, first-out workflow management approach is not as easily scalable as one that can use workload balancing to determine the priorities within a central fill site.
“In a lot of ways, it’s using the early stages of machine learning to understand the current state of the system at any given time, and rework the balance of each substation — and the system as a whole — to make sure the entire system is optimized,” Lashier said, adding that Symphony can prioritize medication replenishments based on demand and need within the workflow so that the most necessary replenishments are made first.
Alongside workload balancing, Innovation has built into Symphony learnings for dynamic prioritization that were partially acquired through its research conducted in partnership with Binghamton University’s Watson Institute for Systems Excellence. Dynamic prioritization can improve a central fill site’s fill-time window, which is crucial to meeting fulfillment goals, Lashier said.
“The shorter the fill-time window, the larger your volume output for that day is, and vice versa,” she said. “Symphony’s algorithm works to keep the various elements of an order in sync in real time.”
At Giant Eagle, Symphony helps the chain prioritize certain stores over others based on when the shipment has to depart the facility to satisfy next-day delivery patients.
Niskach said that since implementing Innovation’s solutions, Giant Eagle has managed to double its central fill output. Some customers, Lashier said, have seen their automation utilization increase to roughly 98% from 20% by using Symphony with already existing automation.
Giant Eagle’s improvements have left pharmacists in-store with the ability to better offer their clinical capabilities to patients.
“This allows that patient more face-to-face time with the pharmacists,” Niskach said. “What we really went to school for and should be doing is not counting pills and doing product verifications, but making a difference for the customer, doing MTM, doing immunizations or recommending an OTC product.”
And that’s Innovation’s mission, as well. “Our overriding goal is to help our customers reposition their pharmacists as care providers and to work at the high end of their credentials,” said Innovation COO Tom Boyer. “Our various high-volume technologies and pharmacy intelligence do just that, enabling them to focus on delivering patient-facing care.”
FamilyWize provides out-of-pocket assistance via its discount prescription drug strategy
Patients are constantly concerned about the price of their prescriptions, and in some cases, insurance doesn’t provide the savings a patient might need — particularly if they fall in the Medicare coverage gap. A long-running partnership between FamilyWize and pharmacies has helped enable affordable access to medication regardless of insurance status. Drug Store News spoke to FamilyWize president and CEO Joseph Sanginiti about the organization’s value proposition and how it is building up its offerings for its patient base.
Drug Store News: How does FamilyWize work?
Joseph Sanginiti: We partner with pharmacies nationwide to negotiate prescription discounts so patients receive much lower prices. These discounted prices can be applied by simply showing the Free FamilyWize Prescription Discount Card or mobile app to the pharmacist or pharmacy tech at the counter when one is picking up their medication.
DSN: How does partnering with FamilyWize benefit retailers that operate pharmacies?
JS: Our pharmacy partners, from major chains to regional chains to independents, all see similar benefits of their customers using FamilyWize. Those benefits are that their patients are more adherent in taking their prescriptions because our discounts help the patient afford the cost. And also, their patients appreciate their pharmacy, and pharmacist, working with us to provide these discounts to them. We hear quite often from our customers, and they tell us just how life changing being able to afford their prescription medications can be, especially these days. In the end, the pharmacy and [its] team are viewed as heroes, and that is the way it should be.
DSN: How does this benefit patients?
JS: FamilyWize understands that our customers are looking to reduce the prices of their prescription medications, and our goal is to help as many people as we possibly can. Since 2005, we’ve helped tens of millions of Americans save more than $1 billion on their prescriptions. Our free prescription discount card and mobile app can be used by everyone nationwide, and there are no eligibility requirements. In addition, before customers visit the pharmacy, they should use the drug price lookup tool on our site, or in our app, to view the FamilyWize price of their medication at pharmacies near their home.
DSN: Is there an educational program involved in a business like this? How can people learn more about this offering?
JS: If you visit our website, familywize.org, we have a FAQs and a “How It Works” page to ensure all questions are answered. We always say that health care is a complicated part of our lives, and we work very hard to simplify it for our customers. For this reason, one can also call our contact center at 1-866-810-3784 to speak to our trained team of associates with any questions that one has.
DSN: What are some of the new services you’re hoping to add in the near future?
JS: We’re always looking to add or improve upon FamilyWize features and services, and 2018 is no exception. First, we continue to work to provide even lower pricing on thousands of common medications to our customers. Second, we are currently working on providing additional financial assistance to patients by including coupons and co-pay assistance for branded medications, making FamilyWize the one-stop shop for saving on all of their prescription medications. When you couple these announcements with our new mobile app, and our strong partnerships with United Way, and the retail pharmacies, we at FamilyWize are looking forward to helping millions more people save on their prescriptions this year and beyond.
FDA clears first 2 generics of Sensipar
The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday approved the first generics of Amgen’s Sensipar. The generic Sensipar tablets (cinacalcet hydrochloride) — from Aurobindo and Cipla — mark the ninth and 10th approvals this year of first-time generics from the FDA.
Both Aurobindo’s and Cipla’s generic Sensipar will be available in 30-, 60- and 90-mg dosage strengths.
The drug is indicated to treat secondary hyperparathyroidism in adult patients with chronic kidney disease on dialysis, Hypercalcemia in adult patients with Parathyroid Carcinoma (PC), and severe hypercalcemia in adult patients with primary HPT who are unable to undergo parathyroidectomy.