Ambulatory pharmacies: A plethora of problems and opportunities

Pittsburgh-based UPMC's Center for Connected Medicine teamed up with KLAS Research to survey 25 health system pharmacy leaders whose systems operate an average of seven ambulatory pharmacies each. 

Not all health systems own ambulatory pharmacies — two-thirds of the hospital systems UPMC contacted relied on external locations — but among the surveyed systems, retaining patients was the No. 1 reason for operating an ambulatory pharmacy.

The report defines ambulatory pharmacies as retail-style or walk-in pharmacies owned by hospitals or health systems. Inpatient pharmacy services are not included in this term. 

In a question about the top challenges of running an ambulatory pharmacy, nearly every health system pharmacy leader answered differently. Only two responses saw duplicates: 340B program complexities and maintaining staffing levels. 

"We are probably in a better place than a lot of retail organizations, but staffing is always an issue for us," one respondent said. "If we lose one person, it takes six months to replace them."

Other issues that cropped up were technology issues, market competition, space limitations and problems with integrating EHRs. One health system pharmacy executive said it was a struggle to prepare new pharmacies to gauge patient demands, including knowing which drugs to stock and creating relationships with drug suppliers. 

While facing a myriad of setbacks, a majority of respondents said they're investing in delivery services, refill reminders over text, integrating data into patient portals, and offering prescription refill requests through websites and apps. These were also the most popular projects for health systems to implement over the next two years. 

Read the report here.

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