Specialty Pharmacy Automation Part II – Overcoming Your Worst Fears

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Automation holds so much potential for Specialty Pharmacy – we talked about it in detail in our last blog post. But with all those benefits in mind, why are so many providers still reluctant to take pharmacy processes out of human hands? And for those who have embraced automation, why are some still failing to realize all this promise and potential?

We’ll answer both of those questions here – and we begin by looking at automation from a pharmacist’s point of view.

The Human Factor – Barriers to Adoption

“We’re comfortable doing things the way we’ve always done them.”
Filling prescriptions used to be the pharmacist’s primary and most valuable role – and many still prefer to do the work themselves. There’s nothing wrong with being in a routine, just don’t let your routines leave you in a rut.

“We don’t want to be disruptive!”
Some pharmacies prefer not to rock the boat, even if it means giving up potential gains.

“We will lose our jobs and our people to machines.”
This may be the most painful thought to bear: jobs lost to automation, as pharmacists and technicians fear a looming irrelevancy. In reality, the opposite is true. Automating routine tasks behind the counter frees pharmacy professionals to provide highly personal service.

“ . . . [T]hose manual tasks are like a security blanket. Pharmacists hold on to them to deal with the pressure. But we’re at a point where you just have to give those up. It’s time.”
McKesson High Volume Solutions

Do any of these worries sound familiar? They should. Concerns like these are common, but that doesn’t mean they’re correct. Don’t let them distract you from the more pressing situational changes that cause fear:

  • Change management (cultural adaptation, less healthcare professionals trying to meet growing demand)
  • Thinning margins (Eroom’s law)
  • Technology adoption (“We’re pharmacists, not technologists!”)

As the specialty pharmacy industry shifts to automating processes as a means of controlling costs and servicing more patients, sticking with a purely manual approach is no longer practical.

As you likely know, the costs in this industry are substantial – and increasing. Let’s take drug discovery as an example: the cost of bringing a new drug to market has risen from $200 million 30 years ago to $2.6 billion today.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute.

Specialty Pharmacies are looking at ways to use automation, specifically AI algorithms and machine learning, to help control costs. These soaring costs are “a problem of prediction,” Daphne Koller recently said in MIT Technology Review. “And prediction is what machine learning has become really good at.”

And of course, drug discovery is just one of the areas in which machine learning is helping Specialty Pharmacies not only control costs but operate more efficiently and effectively. For example, AN Global used automation to help a global PBM eliminate revenue variances. Our team leveraged machine learning and predictive analytics to develop an early warning system that could detect potential bad debt scenarios before they occur.

Cost benefits from the more updated RCM structure and advanced warning system are projected to be in the tens of millions of dollars.

Barriers to Success

Automation (like every technology before it) is not always successful. It’s not automatically a fast-track ticket to private jet-level wealth or TED talk-level fame. Why are some specialty pharmacies left feeling like they simply traded one set of problems for another, with negligible increases in efficiency and/or growth?

Many specialty pharmacies have been burned by the three most common pitfalls to IT automation:

  • Having too narrow a focus
  • Bringing in multiple vendors to implement in a piecemeal fashion
  • Not having the right blend of business process, pharmacy, and software development expertise on the team

When Automation Fails to Deliver

An Unwieldy System

A patchwork system of off-the-shelf solutions from various providers can be difficult and expensive to maintain. Without centralized command and control, there’s no good way to foresee or prevent issues. Pharmacies must play whack-a-mole as problems arise—an approach that’s both disruptive and costly.

Data and Workflow Gaps

Gaps in the system, which piecemeal automation all but ensures, increase the potential for inefficiency and error. This not only creates more work for pharmacies, but also compounds their legal risks. This is especially concerning in an industry that’s highly regulated and scrutinized.

Lost Opportunities

Without a holistic framework or view, pharmacies can’t adapt quickly or innovate fast enough to gain a competitive advantage. Every lost opportunity is a setback on the road to achieving larger business goals.

The Promise and Potential of Holistic Automation

We combat the pitfalls of automation with a holistic approach.

If your specialty pharmacy automates holistically, rather than in silos or a haphazard fashion, you can look forward to significant savings, less IT hassles, lower operating expenses, and fewer compliance .

How can a holistic approach help you? We will cover all of that in our next post, and show you in detail what the promise and potential of holistic automation can do for you.

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