Part 2: How digital innovation is influencing patient interactions and experiences

Rich Tremonte, EVP & President, Customer Operations, Animal Health, and Community & Specialty Pharmacy

Part 2: Ensuring the promise of digital innovation is reflected through a better patient experience

Read Part 1: A deep dive on the consumer trends driving digital innovation across sites of care

 

The concept of digital innovation in healthcare delivery continues to grow in importance as the industry progresses through the pandemic and prepares for the future of medicine. That said, each new tool and solution must be strategic, warranted, and result in a better patient experience at the end of the day.

Below, read three critical takeaways as sites of care progress in their digital transformation journeys.

I.    Healthcare innovations must be designed with access and equity in mind.

Awareness of the local and international impact of health disparities has grown exponentially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The industry saw significant inequities related to infection, hospitalization, mortality, and vaccination rates among Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other historically marginalized populations. More than ever, consumers believe it’s the healthcare system’s responsibility to address these gaps and level the playing field for communities in need.  

Biomedical and digital innovations will not realize their full value if they are not accessible or feasible for the most vulnerable individuals. It’s critical that providers understand and address the unique access barriers and social determinants of health facing their patients and communities. For example, people with disabilities and those without high-speed internet access are less likely to benefit from services like telehealth due to physical and socioeconomic limitations. Depending on a practice’s unique patient mix and geographic location, certain investments may not make sense unless they can be augmented appropriately to address patients’ specific circumstances.

Pharmacists have shown that they are well-positioned to increase access to critical care for marginalized populations and we must allow them to continue doing so. Good Neighbor Pharmacy (GNP), AmerisourceBergen’s nationwide network of independent community pharmacies, recently exceeded 5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses allocated to pharmacies across the U.S. through the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program for COVID-19 Vaccination. Nearly 50 percent of the patients vaccinated through GNP’s program reside in socially vulnerable communities, and these stores went above and beyond to reach those in need—from deploying mobile vaccination clinics to inoculate homeless populations to offering interpretation services and translated educational materials at vaccine clinics for non-English speaking patients.

Permanently expanding pharmacists’ prescribing authority and enabling consistent reimbursement for expanded clinical services will help to level today’s ongoing equity and access challenges. As members of the Future of Pharmacy Care Coalition, AB and GNP strongly support H.R. 7213, the Equitable Community Access to Pharmacist Services Act, to ensure patients’ continued access to pandemic-related care services provided by pharmacists and safeguard communities from COVID-19 and future public health crises.

II.    Patient satisfaction and better health outcomes hinge on a secure and reliable pharmaceutical supply chain.

The implementation of cutting-edge digital tools and services at the practice level can drive increased patient engagement and encourage more interactions with the healthcare system. But more than anything, practices need to have the right products on hand at the right time to ensure patient satisfaction and outcomes.

As the pipeline of new and complex therapies continues to grow, all classes of trade must work closely with their distribution partner to stay informed on new product approvals, expanded indications, and other supply chain updates. As the link between manufacturers and providers, distribution partners relay important product education and information that care teams need to help their patients make the best decisions. For example, when Semglee was approved in 2021 as the first biosimilar available through Part D, AB provided our pharmacy customers with ongoing updates and educational materials to ensure they were prepared to support the product once available in the market.

Throughout the pandemic, AB collaborated closely with all supply chain stakeholders to manage the immediate and long-term needs of our customers and their patients. We prioritized constant communication with manufacturers to buy in-demand inventory as quickly as possible, fulfill increased orders, and ensure stability for future patient needs. The enhancements made to our distribution network’s IT infrastructure over the past several years enabled us to seamlessly transfer orders to alternate distribution centers for continuity, if necessary.

AB continues to invest in our infrastructure, operations, and customer communications to ensure providers can meet patient expectations and connect them with the right products consistently and reliably. This includes establishing strategic relationships with innovative companies like NuVizz to advance communications around our delivery and transportation capabilities. AB also recently underwent a comprehensive digital transformation initiative to connect the entirety of our distribution network including specialty and wholesale, and we’re making continuous improvements to our e-commerce platforms to ensure the customer ordering process is quick, efficient, and frees up more time for patient interactions.

III.    We can’t afford to lose momentum once the urgency of the pandemic subsides. There is more work to be done as we reimagine a better tomorrow.

The pandemic has uncovered new ways of working across the supply chain and alongside government agencies—from expedited drug approvals to more efficient approaches for data-sharing across care teams. As an industry, we must reaffirm our commitment to collaboration and innovation to drive fundamental systemic change moving forward.

While we’ve made significant progress for an industry that has historically been slower to adapt to the digital revolution, there are still areas in need of improvement. For example, studies have found that a lack of real-time patient health information at the bedside is the biggest barrier to achieving optimal patient care in hospitals around the world. Globally, 64 percent of IT executives identify nurse to physician communications as a top area needing improvement.

Beyond the implementation of new tools, we’ve seen parts of the healthcare system – like pharmacies – showcase their immense value in times of need. Pharmacies have significantly reduced the pressure on doctors and hospitals through their role in COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, and now, antivirals. It’s time for Congress to recognize and permanently expand pharmacists’ clinical capabilities. The introduction of H.R. 7213, the Equitable Community Access to Pharmacist Services Act, is an important step to ensure ongoing access for Medicare beneficiaries to pharmacist services such as testing, treatment, and vaccinations for COVID-19 and beyond. H.R. 7213 also establishes Medicare coverage and payment for new pharmacy- and pharmacist-provided services in the case of Public Health Emergencies. We strongly support this legislation and hope it is the first of many that will empower pharmacists and pave the way for a more equitable healthcare system.

We at AB will continue to advocate for and collaborate with all our provider customers to support their evolving roles, strengthen their digital capabilities, and create a better, more accessible patient experience.