Customer spotlight: Blue Sky Specialty Pharmacy, Part 2
In an industry that seems designed to lock the little guy out, Blue Sky Specialty Pharmacy is thriving. One thing we love about this small specialty pharmacy is the leadership team’s ability to think big, whether they’re confronting the challenges of today’s healthcare environment or preparing for tomorrow. For their partnership with AmerisourceBergen, that means the Blue Sky team is nimble and ready to get creative when it comes to trying new solutions and exploring new ideas together.
We talked with Blue Sky’s leadership team to learn how they’re setting themselves apart from the competition, what growth looks like for a small specialty pharmacy, and how AmerisourceBergen is helping.
Q: What innovative or new things have you've tried to support your growth?
Curt Nesbitt: We have a long list of innovative systems/processes that set us apart in the market. Some of these innovations and mission critical components are supported by Frameworks MI, Inc., a dynamic healthcare software company that works closely with us to provide customizable solutions and services that are unparalleled in the industry. One of these systems is our physician portal, which allows full access, in real time, to what's going on in the process. It sounds rudimentary, but even the big players don't have a really good system for keeping track of where the patient is through the entire system. I think that's the cornerstone, it's kind of simple, but we do it very well and our system is not a plug and play. It's plug and play, but then you have a lot of customization, so we spend a lot of time understanding what makes sense for our customers, like AmerisourceBergen does with us.
Sara Kazzi: In May of 2021, we plan on launching our new Patient Journey Feed. This will be a feed similar to a social media feed that many people are already familiar with using. The difference is that it will house all of patient’s history and interactions with us. The patient will get a text message when we receive their prescription, which will initiate them into the feed. That text message links out to a HIPAA-compliant and secure internet page that contains their feed. Ultimately, our goals with this program are to use this feed to facilitate communication and maintain total transparency on where their prescription lies in our workflow.
The possibilities with this program are endless, and we plan to continually expand the platform by including features that allow the patient to schedule their refills, change their shipping address, collect copayment, etc. This active participation in the healthcare journey will empower our patients to feel more in control of their journey in a world where that feeling is not common.
Matt Walsh: In order to implement this technology, we had to have the specialty prescription process really dialed in. And that was extremely human, very manual, and folks like Sarah and our pharmacists and Curt, they know that process inside and out and can do it with their eyes closed. And then we added technology to make it scalable. And that technology was originally for inside of our pharmacy, our workflow. And it made our ability to do more with the same amount of people a reality.
And then we took that same workflow and we turned it around and gave it out to all of our practices. So now they can have a real-time view of their particular business with Blue Sky, right into our workflow. We can't hide anything. They know how long a prescription's been here, what's happening to it, who touched it. Everything. So we're really transparent. And our prescribers really like that. They can self-serve, they can get in, get the information they want, drop some chart notes, whatever it is they need to do, and get out. Or they can call us and we can communicate the information — however they want to interact.
We then created another view of that same workflow for our salespeople so they could understand who's successful in the field, practice-wise. That was a pretty big sea change for us, from a technology standpoint, going from paper and file folders and Excel spreadsheets to real-time access for all the parties involved.
Now, we’re bringing the patient into the mix. And that's all about meeting the patient where they are. We all have a feed — whether it's Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter — and we scroll bottom to top, in chronological order. We can see what's going on in our social lives and our kids' sports and our neighborhood, because we like to know what our neighbors are doing. And if I'm somebody who suffers from an autoimmune disease, I want to know what's going on with my prescription. Now you have that from Blue Sky.
Things like this are really expensive. They’re big bets. But again, we think it gives us the ability to scale our overall business without just adding more people for every new thing we do.
The big box guys aren't doing that. They're not really interested in doing that because they have a contracted ability to just force people in. We don't sit in that position and we have to make people love Blue Sky, and we use technology to our advantage in that regard.
Q: Speaking of big bets and innovative ideas, what attracted you to AmerisourceBergen’s Accelerate Specialty PSAO?
Curt Nesbitt: For me, AmerisourceBergen is a mission-critical component to our business and we're a willing participant in any activity with them. We value the partnership, and we want to be the partner that says, “we'll give it a shot and step up because you guys are behind us.”
That’s one driver. But the payer environment is a very difficult environment. It's somewhat uncontrollable and Accelerate gives us the opportunity to increase our margins. We think that's exciting, and we also like to be on the forefront of new technology and new things that are taking place. If we're way behind, if someone came to us in five years and asked us to be part of Accelerate, I’d feel like we missed the boat. So I love the opportunity to be part of solutions that are forward-thinking instead of the opposite. And since this is the nation’s first specialty PSAO, we’re excited to see it be successful. It means a lot to me to know that AmerisourceBergen is behind these types of efforts to help us. You don't have to do this, but I think it's very exciting and a unique opportunity.
Matt Walsh: AmerisourceBergen’s ability to move the needle in the payer environment to the benefit of your specialty customers is unique. And the fact that you're endeavoring to do it is unique and we are very appreciative to have the opportunity to be an early adopter and provide our input and our feedback and hopefully guidance, but also to take advantage of the solution that you bring in the market because it's needed.
As Curt pointed out, it's really tough in the payer world. It's a complicated world, it's a very opaque world. And if you don't understand it and have the mind map to figure it all out, you can spend a lot of money, just human capital, trying to figure it out and get nowhere and selfishly, from my perspective as both the head of sales and the CFO chair, I'm really hopeful that we'll be able to ride your coat tails and let you all do the heavy lifting and be a part of a great specialty PSAO network. So we're excited about it. We were excited about it day one, and we're eager to sign on.
Q: What are some other ways you've been able to leverage your partnership with AmerisourceBergen to grow or discover new solutions?
Matt Walsh: There are several really good examples of how AmerisourceBergen works hard to help us be successful. One that comes immediately to mind was about nine months ago. I emailed Barry [Sandler, Vice President of Account Management at AmerisourceBergen] and asked him a few questions around 340B. Within a matter of a few hours, he had a really thoughtful response, looped in a few people, and had subject matter experts in an email chain. The next thing you know, we’re talking about 340B with an individual who probably knows more about it than anybody else in the country and has been there every step of the way with us ever since as we began to formulate a strategy for that part of our business — helping us think about operationalizing what ultimately could be a really big opportunity for us and how AmerisourceBergen can help.
We didn't have those type of resources at our disposal in the past. Knowing that they're there and having somebody like Barry who is immediately able to respond to our call, knows exactly where he can go within the organization and get all the right people involved, and do it at such a large organization is incredible. I think it's just another really good example of how AmerisourceBergen goes above and beyond just dropping drugs off at the back door of the pharmacy every day. They help us think about how best to reach the business goal we're ultimately driving toward.
Q: What myths or misconceptions exist about smaller specialty pharmacies?
Curt Nesbitt: One myth is that the independents can't manage patients as well as larger, PBM-owned specialty pharmacies. But we actually have metrics that demonstrate we do. Whether it’s compliance, adherence, or saving the healthcare system money. We outperform and are willing to "put our money where our mouth is."
Matt Walsh: It's easy for the payer world to undervalue the work we're doing here, but the reality is that we have to demonstrate outcomes and savings just to survive. The only way to be a successful independent specialty pharmacy is to outperform larger players on some level. If you don’t, you risk product access.
Q: What is the ideal patient experience for you?
Matt Walsh: Our aspiration is to meet the patient where they are. What I mean by that is, a 72-year-old woman who's on an RA med and lives in a rural part of South Carolina probably is not terribly interested in anything other than speaking with somebody on the phone, being assured that we have her prescription, and scheduling a delivery. She wants that voice on the other end of the phone that is going to answer any questions she has and assuage any concerns. Then she wants the package show up on the day and time it’s supposed to.
The flip side of that is someone who is more technologically inclined, probably doesn't want to take our phone call, and wants the text message or the self-service option. And we want to meet that patient exactly where they are, too. If we can do that across a broad spectrum of patient expectations, then we're doing the best job that can possibly be done for the patient and thereby, in pharmacy.
That's what drives us every day — meeting our customers, both practices and patients, wherever they are. And we started with practices because that's the top of the funnel for us. If you're at the doctor's office and you want to get every single thing faxed, and you want to fax us every single thing back, we can do that. If you're at a doctor's office and you want nothing but digital communication, we can do that too. The most satisfied customer is the customer who's being serviced when, where, and how they want to be serviced. It's not about us. We are literally just here to serve.