5 growth areas for health system pharmacy leaders: McKinsey

Hospital and health system pharmacy leaders might be missing out on big-picture goals in "emerging frontiers" as they extinguish long-standing issues, such as rising healthcare costs and a pharmacy technician shortage, according to an Oct. 7 article from McKinsey

The consulting agency surveyed 80 health system pharmacy leaders in 2021 and 2023 to conclude which five areas hospital pharmacy leaders should focus on:

1. Inflation

Most hospital pharmacy leaders are planning for a 4% to 6% increase in inflation in the next 12 months. Compared to a 2021 survey, there was an uptick in executives predicting inflation growing more than 7% in a 2023 survey. 

With this financial pressure in mind, survey respondents said they plan to lower costs through a higher utilization of generics and biosimilars, and reducing drug waste. 

Another goal is formulary management, but pharmacy executives are struggling to gain buy-in from service line leaders and physicians. A strong management of formularies, such as instituting one pharmacy committee that manages drug purchases in each service line, can help health system pharmacies save 5% to 10% of total drug spend, McKinsey said.

2. Supply chain

More than 50% of respondents indicated manufacturing and product shortages were a significant threat to their organizations for the next five years, and only 5% said they feel prepared to tackle this concern. 

"Health systems could consider developing internal capabilities — such as a streamlined governance system, a shortage playbook with clear owners and analytical tools that track historical supply fluctuations," the article said. 

McKinsey also recommended hospital pharmacies raise expectations with drug manufacturers when it comes to data sharing and failure-to-supply clauses.

3. Staffing shortages

In hospitals, 81% don't have enough pharmacy technicians, 41% are short on clinical pharmacists, and 34% are short-staffed on pharmacists and ambulatory clinical pharmacists. Less than a fifth were adequately staffed on pharmacy techs, and a slight majority said the same for the other hospital pharmacy roles.

To counteract these shortages, leaders can adjust pay and benefits to match alternative work environments, offer continuous education for license certifications, partner with schools and strengthen career paths. 

4. Stalled projects

Between 2021 and 2023, health systems recorded growth in their networks for retail and mail-order pharmacies, digital and analytics capabilities, and home infusion programs. Two other areas — patient assistance programs and pharmacy benefit management — had stagnant growth. 

All five of these areas were noted as emerging markets among the respondents, who added that specialty pharmacy and ambulatory infusion projects were more mature. Further investment in these projects can propel pharmacy departments by diversifying revenue through new avenues, according to McKinsey. 

5. Partnerships

As private equity deals shrink, health systems are growing interested in partnering with startups, payers and distributors. There's a lack of innovative partnerships, though, such as private equity firms helping create lucrative ambulatory service lines or multiple systems teaming up to address drug shortages.

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