What Specialty Pharmacies Can Teach the Healthcare Industry

April 26, 2015
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Patient Satisfaction: Behind the Buzzword

Patient satisfaction seems to be a major buzzword in healthcare, and with good reason: with the move toward value-based payments, the quality of care is going to carry much more weight not just to patients, but payers, as we move away from quantity driven payment models.

Patient Satisfaction: Behind the Buzzword

Patient satisfaction seems to be a major buzzword in healthcare, and with good reason: with the move toward value-based payments, the quality of care is going to carry much more weight not just to patients, but payers, as we move away from quantity driven payment models.

Pharmacist

What Can We Learn From Specialty Pharmacies?

One area of the healthcare industry that already has a good handle on patient satisfaction is specialty pharmacy. As an industry in and of itself, pharmacy has always had to concern itself with patient satisfaction and other measure of quality that will give them insight into patient adherence to treatment.

With pharmaceuticals, there’s not just a lot on the line financially, but grave errors can be made from even the slightest lapse in attention or judgment. Patients have to be properly educated on their medications and while this conversation should ideally happen in a patient’s doctor’s office, it often falls to the pharmacist. It’s just as well: pharmacists, after all, have the expertise to speak about everything from side effects to discontinuation.

That being said, there’s a lot that the healthcare industry can glean from how pharmacies — specifically specialty pharmacies — relate to patients.

Reliable Day-to-Day Operations

Specialty pharmacies understand that, like most things in healthcare settings, the fluidity and reliability of day-to-day operations are key to keeping not just patients, but providers and payers, happy. Establishing workflows and systems that support follow-through with patients is vital. Of course, you must always be prepared to reevaluated processes that aren’t working — or, that could be working better — and commit to making changes that will lead to improve outcomes.

Use Data Wisely

Hospitals need to run like a well-oiled machine. Of course, specialty pharmacies usually operate on a much smaller scale, and so systems that are devoted to productivity and attention to patient’s individual needs are much easier to come by than they would be in, say, a large healthcare system.

But the process of developing and maintaining systems can be expanded to a scale large enough to incorporate the needs of healthcare organizations. Data is becoming, more and more so, the foundation on which new theories of healthcare operation are built, and in the years to come data collection, analysis and perhaps most importantly, use, will be what separates the leaders from the followers within the industry.

A Smile Goes A Long Way

The thing about systems, though, is that you have to be mindful that they don’t wholly dictate every aspect of the patient experience: a positive and helpful attitude gets you a long way. It’s important to remember that not every patient will seamlessly fit into the system you’ve designed, so you have to maintain enough flexibility to be able to meet the needs of patients whose situations may be, for whatever reason, more complex to manage.

It’s reasonable to expect this process to be highly frustrating at times, not just for patients but providers and payers as well. Patient’s that don’t “fit the mold” require not just your positivity, but your ingenuity as well. In situations where a certain level of problem solving and creativity is required, patience and understanding from all parties involved is key to success. Easier said than done, of course.

Say You’re Sorry

You should never undervalue the power of a genuine apology. If you goof with a patient or inadvertently (or unavoidably) make a colleague’s life harder by requiring something beyond the norm there’s a lot that can be solved through a meaningful display of empathy. It might sound completely obvious, but you’d be surprised how many disagreements — even at the C-Suite level — could be absolved if pride was set aside and patient needs put first.

Developing Relationships

Pharmacies are in a unique position to develop long-term relationships with their patients who may come in several times a month to refill prescriptions. If these patients require even more than just meds, like equipment or home health services, the capacity for developing a compassionate relationship is even greater and is not something to be overlooked.

Primary care doctors should recognize that pharmacists often are the eyes and ears that hold the clues to untangling the web of patient’s reluctance to adhere to medication regimes. It’s the local pharmacist who will know just how much that medication is costing, what the unwelcomed side effects may be, and is in a position to counsel the patient long after they’ve left their doctor’s office.

If PCP’s routinely side step the pharmacy’s input into a situation with a non-compliant patient, they are missing valuable information not just for that patient specifically, but future patients who are likely to find themselves in a similar circumstance.

Listen Hard

Every patient is an opportunity to get it right — but, when things don’t go swimmingly, it should always be taken as a learning opportunity, particularly when it comes to patient satisfaction. You, as the physician or pharmacist or payer, are not going to know precisely what the patient needs or wants, but you do have the power to ask and to listen.

By amassing this data and using it wisely, you’ll be able to create a powerful and receptive environment in which patients can expect to be treated well. If you’re confident that your processes are running smoothly it will show, and patients will develop confidence based on your consistent commitment to improvement.

Finding a Balance

And of course, as with most things in life, the proof is often in the pudding: if patients are dissatisfied with services, it’s your responsibility to hear their concerns and figure out how to best address them. While it might seem like just one more thing to balance — between cutting costs, sharing risk and accountability— your relationships with patients should never be first on the chopping block; after all, without them there wouldn’t be a healthcare system.