Advancing patient care and hospital growth with an outpatient pharmacy

Hospital and health system-owned outpatient pharmacies are proven to increase medication compliance and outcomes, reduce hospital readmissions and provide new revenue streams. However, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for success. In fact, business models for outpatient pharmacies are as varied as the hospitals and health systems that operate them.

During a July 23 webinar sponsored by Cardinal Health and hosted by Becker's Hospital Review, three healthcare leaders discussed outpatient pharmacy models and their key success drivers. Presenters included:

  • Kelly Morrison, Cardinal Health director of remote and retail pharmacy services in Columbus, Ohio
  • Neil Thornbury, CEO at TJ Regional Health in Glasgow, Kentucky
  • Virginia Ruef, regional pharmacy officer at Mount Carmel Health System in Columbus, Ohio

Below are five takeaways shared during the webinar to help you customize a successful outpatient pharmacy model for your organization:

1. Outpatient pharmacies support sustainable financial performance: TJ Regional Health transformed its outpatient pharmacy from a small facility that served only employee prescriptions, to a hospital lobby retail pharmacy open to the public and a second pharmacy serving affiliated physicians. As a result, TJ Regional now offers a meds-to-beds program to all patients and improved its alignment with physicians to increase capture rates. The changes had a significant impact on prescription volume that, in turn, improved the outpatient pharmacy’s bottom line by more than 33 percent, according to Mr. Thornbury. "If you take care of the patient, people will come to you and the financials will take care of themselves," he said.

2. Outpatient models should support your core values: To help deliver its mission to care for the population’s most vulnerable, Mount Carmel Health System developed its outpatient pharmacy strategy with a focus on reducing readmissions and improving transitions of care. Mount Carmel Health System’s outpatient pharmacy model leverages a hub-and-spoke design, in which, one outpatient pharmacy provides services for four member hospitals. Aligning with the system's commitment to the colleagues and the community, it established both meds-to-beds and charity care programs, as well as an employee prescriptions program. "Part of our commitment to the community is serving the underserved and the poor," Dr. Ruef said. "We wanted to make sure our most vulnerable patients had access to prescriptions ... and to ensure that our colleagues had access to medications."

3. People, process and perseverance are key: Support from stakeholders is vital in developing a successful outpatient pharmacy strategy. Alignment among all departments is critical to kickstart and maintain a productive outpatient pharmacy, including marketing support for local promotions. Outpatient pharmacies represent a contrasting business model to inpatient pharmacies and require special care to successfully launch. All stakeholders and leaders must understand the model from the top down for it to progress in the right direction. For example, Mr. Thornbury followed staff through the TJ Regional meds-to-beds program workflow to gain a better understanding of the process and how it contributes to strategy. “People, process and perseverance are key to its success,” he said.  

4. Tight integration is needed across care teams: Meds-to-beds programs help patients continue their care regimens post-discharge and significantly improve outcomes, according to Dr. Ruef. Tight integration with population health pharmacist teams, case management and other clinicians is highly recommended to ensure that patients not only receive the right medication, but that they can also afford the prescribed medication. Substitutions should be proactively managed whenever possible to ensure adherence, formulary alignment and ensuring the most cost-effective care.   

5. Employee prescription services help control benefit costs: As a health system with more than 10,000 employees, Mount Carmel saw the employee prescription service as a way to support colleagues and help control employee benefit costs. Colleagues can get prescriptions filled on-site and/or have prescriptions mailed to their homes. “Beginning in March 2020, 90 percent of employee prescriptions were mailed to homes to help ensure the health and safety of employees during the onset of the coronavirus,” Dr. Ruef said.

In summary, outpatient pharmacies are an often-overlooked, but within reach opportunity for hospitals and health systems seeking to achieve additional profitability through serving an extended patient population beyond discharge. 

Cardinal Health Outpatient Pharmacy Services brings over 40 years of expertise in operating outpatient pharmacies. Click here to learn more about Cardinal Health Outpatient Pharmacy Services. To view the full webinar, click here.

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