PHARMACY

More than a name: Owners underscore Health Mart’s partnership, resources

BY Sandra Levy

When behemoths like CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance and Amazon tie the knot with health-industry players to gain a stronger foothold in the healthcare arena, one can only imagine what a formidable challenge it is for independent pharmacies to be successful in a rapidly evolving healthcare environment.

Yet, to hear independent pharmacists Tony Willoughby, Heather Ferrarese and Cole Sandlin tell it, this is a great time to be an independent pharmacy owner.

Willoughby, president of Dallas-based Thrive Pharmacy Solutions; Sandlin, owner of Fred’s Pharmacy in Hamilton, Ala.; and Ferrarese, owner of Bartle’s Pharmacy in Oxford, N.Y., operate different models of pharmacies, but they share one distinction — they are Health Mart pharmacies. As part of McKesson’s Health Mart network of 5,000 independent pharmacies nationwide, their pharmacies are thriving, which they said is thanks to the scale of cutting-edge technology, services, resources and tools McKesson puts within easy reach.

Armed with a strong value proposition, McKesson executives said the company is shaping the future of retail pharmacy by emboldening its Health Mart pharmacies to differentiate themselves, so they can grow in a more complex landscape, thereby ensuring their success over the long term, while improving patient care and reducing costs.

Whether it is providing access to managed care networks through its Health Mart Atlas pharmacy services administrative organization, assistance with calculating DIR fees, technology solutions, OTC products and programs, education and training, McKesson executives said the company has left no stone unturned to ensure that Health Mart independent pharmacies will not be left behind.

“What we see in the independent segment is generational loyalty, so the business can continue to thrive. ‘Because you took care of my parents, or my extended family, as I go from a healthy state into needing a prescription, I’ll transition into that same environment because of the trust and quality care provided,’” said Chris Dimos, president of McKesson Retail Solutions. “The referral network becomes tight and that loyalty becomes extremely strong. That’s why you’ll see multigenerational families in the community owning and operating pharmacies, and also patronizing those same pharmacies.”
Sandlin, a third-generation pharmacist, who purchased Fred’s Pharmacy from his parents five years ago, credited the company for helping to drive store traffic, increase customer loyalty and boost revenues.

For example, he uses Health Mart’s children’s chewable vitamin program, offering a year’s free supply of vitamins. “Customers don’t have to fill a prescription to get the vitamins. They cost a little less than a dollar apiece, but we dispense them for free. It’s a way to give back to the community and draw in new customers and business,” Sandlin said.

Owners said having the Health Mart brand name also is seen as opening the door to an independent pharmacy’s success when competing with retail pharmacy giants that are household names.

“As a Health Mart store, it creates a national brand of healthcare destination,” Sandlin said “When people see the logo or commercial, they know when it comes to health care, if you go to a Health Mart store, you’ll get what you need.”McKesson also provides such tools as the MyHealthMart dashboard, which enables independents to run their businesses more efficiently and cost-effectively.

The dashboard provides reimbursement information, shows pharmacists how they can optimize results for their business and patient base, what they can do in terms of quality and insurance tools, and what their cash flow is going to be over time. “These tools can be used by independent pharmacists to manage their business and optimize the care they provide to their patients,” Health Mart president Nimesh Jhaveri said. “When we look at the technology available for pharmacists today, it can feel overwhelming. However, with the Health Mart team and the training available, it’s simplified and impactful.”

Willoughby said that Health Mart is a strategy partner that acts as a clearinghouse of what is occurring in the industry, which allows Health Mart members to focus on the day to day of operating their business, while maintaining tabs on industry trends. This helps inform local strategic initiatives, and in the case of Thrive, it has partnered with a Dallas-based accountable care organization to work directly with primary care physicians to improve care for patients with chronic conditions.

“We’ve extended our community pharmacy out of the four walls of our pharmacy into the practices of a physician network of about 500 physicians that care for over 900,000 local patients,” Willoughby said. “All business owners balance maintaining day-to-day operations, while keeping an eye on new trends. We use our partners at Health Mart to help us see what’s changing in the market, such as reimbursement, payment models and collaboration opportunities.”

Ferrarese relies on Health Mart’s medication adherence performance solution to increase her efficiency, streamline her workflow and boost revenue.

With 600 patients in the medication synchronization program, Ferrarese said her workflow is more predictable. “Due to declining reimbursement, I don’t want to have excess inventory sitting on my shelf for months that may never get used. With Health Mart’s adherence tools, I am able to identify which patients would be my best target for my medication synchronization program. I’m able to reduce my inventory expenses because I’m not ordering those products until I’ve filled the prescription,” she said.

Having a medication adherence solution also opened the door for Ferrarese to partner with a local county behavioral health plan.

“We showed their providers how many patients we had, who they were and what they were doing as far as compliance with medication,” she said. “My pitch to them was, ‘There are things I can do at the pharmacy level to help you improve compliance because with MACRA and MIPS and reimbursement changing how we are all going to be paid, it’s in physicians’ best interest to have compliance.’”

Willoughby echoed Ferrarese’s sentiments concerning the value of McKesson’s medication synchronization program, in which Thrive has approximately 3,000 patients enrolled. In addition to impacting patient care through improved medication engagement and adherence, it also impacts physician practice workload to free up practice staff to take care of patients. “The average physician office has about 25% of their calls driven primarily for prescription refills,” Willoughby said. “As you enroll more patients in medication synchronization, you’re able to pull prescription refill workload out of the practice, which improves both the staff’s and the patients’ experience.”

Having access to the right managed care networks is crucial for independents’ success, particularly as the industry evolves to value-
based care models.

Launched in April 2018, Health Mart Atlas’ PSAO partnership with American Pharmacy Cooperative manages core PSAO services, including third-party PBM and payer contracting, as well as credentialing, central pay and MAC pricing appeals for community pharmacy.

Crystal Lennartz, Health Mart Atlas’ vice president of pharmacy performance, said that an increasing number of plans have a preferred or a narrow structure, which means they typically are limiting the number of pharmacies that can participate in exchange for lowering costs for their members. “It’s increasingly difficult now,” she said. “Only certain PSAOs or pharmacies may have access into those preferred networks. If they are not preferred, there can be a co-pay differential for patients, or they may not be able to serve that patient at all. To service those patients and their prescription needs they need to be able to have access to the right networks.”

Health Mart Atlas vice president general manager Eyad Farah pointed out that the company is getting access to more networks that in the long term will drive the success of its pharmacies and its network. Being able to anticipate DIR fees can prevent a pharmacy from having a serious cash flow problem that can put it out of business.

Ferrarese praised McKesson for providing a robust DIR calculator. “It shows what your ingredient costs are, who are your primary payers and, based on your performance, this is what we are estimating our DIR fees will be,” she said. “That lets you sleep at night.”

Education also is a cornerstone of McKesson’s strategy to help Health Mart pharmacies drive revenue, grow their business and improve patient outcomes. Health Mart University’s online training tools provide useful information on getting into new services, such as immunizations and MTM.

In addition, Health Mart hosts peer-led town hall meetings, which include the opportunity to share experiences and gain CE credits.

Among the topics presented: quality performance and measures, medication synchronization, profitability and advancing care, increasing revenues with such services as vaccines and MTM, and fostering relationships with prescribers.

Mike Cihlar, Health Mart’s retail operations director, said the company has hosted more than 400 town hall meetings over the past five years. “Peer-to-peer networking and peer-led education are a great catalyst for helping our independent pharmacies evolve, and it helps them deliver the proper care, greater efficiency and more profit in their business,” he said. “Having 5,000 Health Marts being able to share their story across the family is important.”

What does the future for independent pharmacies look like?

Despite challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead, Ferrarese sees the glass half full. “McKesson is providing stores with ways to boost immunization services, how to promote medication sync services, and how you can streamline your business expenses and reduce some staffing hours,” she said. “When you partner with a PSAO and wholesaler that understands the whole picture and the payer landscape, they’re able to guide and direct us.”

Sandlin also envisions a bright future. “McKesson equips us with services, protocol and training in order for us to change and continue being unique when competing with big-box chains, so that we will have a valued place in health care down the road,” he said.

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