Hospitals & Health Systems Embracing Outpatient Pharmacy

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You have probably never visited Madawaska, Maine. It is a tiny, rural town at one of the most northern peaks of the state, just a few steps from the Canadian border. The town boasts a small population of about 4,000 mostly French-speaking residents. But recently the Northern Maine Medical Center, located about 30 minutes away, decided to invest in that community and expand their services by purchasing a retail pharmacy in the town. The CEO, Peter Sirois, said that “Acquiring the retail pharmacy will allow us as a healthcare provider to close the loop and integrate the inpatient hospital experience with the outpatient services.”

This is just one small example of the way health systems are thinking today, and it is important for pharmacists to keep this in mind as they are planning career moves and opportunities. Hospitals understand that the trend toward outpatient services is growing, and most are beginning to appreciate the importance of putting their own stake in the ground for capturing outpatient pharmacy service dollars.

And it isn’t just for the financial benefits. For example, Lima Memorial Health System in Ohio is currently expanding their meds to beds program from their outpatient pharmacy. According to the local article on the story “seamless transitional care from an inpatient hospital setting to the patient’s home is our new frontier.” This is because transitioning the patient safely home is a part of their commitment to patient wellness. According to James Straub, pharmacy manager for Lima Memorial, “Lima Memorial’s unique concierge medication program has proven to be an effective strategy for lowering readmissions, supporting quality outcomes and enhancing patient satisfaction. In the past three years, more than 50 percent of eligible patients have taken advantage of the program.”

Hospitals are also utilizing pharmacists to reduce readmission rates. Results of a study published recently in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy demonstrated that pharmacist involvement reduced readmissions by 50% at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. According to Richard Demers, the chief administrative officer for their ambulatory pharmacy services, his pharmacists “conduct medication teaching for patients with diseases such as cancer, multiple sclerosis, and rheumatoid arthritis, and a concierge service at several hospitals delivers patients new prescriptions prior to discharge.”

Of course, not every hospital in the country has gotten on board with outpatient pharmacy services. Some are adopting the concept more slowly due to budget constraints, hospital size or they may lack the expertise to do it right. Some health systems have tried launching outpatient pharmacy services and discovered it was more difficult than expected. Detroit Medical Center (DMC), for example, struggled to successfully leverage their outpatient pharmacies into a profitable business. According to an online article “Over the past two years, DMC has been reorganizing its outpatient pharmacy operations, laying off and reassigning at least two dozen employees.” They recently sold the pharmacies to Walgreens.

My own advice for hospitals seeking to grow their outpatient pharmacy opportunities or specialty pharmacy business is that they should recruit carefully, looking for candidates who understand how to successfully implement such a program into the health system workflow. Also, hiring a consultant is highly recommended. When done properly, hospital outpatient pharmacists can contribute to better patient outcomes and better bottom lines.

When asked about the purchase of the pharmacy in Madawaska, Maine, Scott Richards, pharmacy director, put it well “Having this opportunity to close the loop for our patients is a goal that every pharmacist would love to have.”

I couldn’t agree more.

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