white pills
(This is the seventh in 10-part blog series on industry trends that are shaping the future of healthcare. To see a report on all ten trends click here)

Pharmacies used to be merely an outlet at the end of the biopharma sales chain where patients went to collect their prescriptions. But today pharmacy chains are assuming a much bigger role in the healthcare market transformation, extending their reach into R&D, disease management, and patient wellness programs. This transformation is creating an interesting new point of integration between patients, pharma and other key industry stakeholders.

Unlike biopharma companies, pharmacies are already consumer-driven by design, and leading edge organizations, like Walgreens and CVS are harnessing that connectivity with consumers to create a new healthcare platform for the future. Walgreens and CVS are both active in establishing new clinics and ratcheting up the breadth and depth of their patient engagement, with some sites hosting clinical trials, taking advantage of the convenience and connection they have with their vast customer database. Other system stakeholders are taking note and partnering in this new trend. For example, BCBS and Walgreens are working together on a campaign to educate patients on the Affordable Care Act. 

Hospital pharmacists are also becoming more integrated and influential in hospital care. They are routinely involved in decisions related to high-risk drug therapy, such as warfarin; they play a critical role in FDA-mandated Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS); and they often lead anti-microbial stewardship in hospitals. 

Specialty pharmacies represent yet another lever of pharmacy influence by streamlining the delivery and financing of healthcare. Indeed, today these pharmacies are used by 75% of plans in the U.S.  The Life Science sector’s increasingly specialty concentrated portfolio will come under the purview of these specialty pharmacies, which operate a high-touch channel to patients, fostering personalized information exchange. 

How should biopharma respond?

The rate at which prescribers accept pharmacists’ recommendations has increased dramatically over the last decade. Today, pharmacists provide consultations on drug information, dose adjustment and pharmacokinetics. Tomorrow, pharmacists are expected to further leverage their unique “downstream” relationship with patients and provide vital intelligence and feedback on patient behavior and outcomes to “upstream” providers.

In response, biopharma companies need to include this increasingly powerful stakeholder in their market access strategy. As the practice of generic substitution becomes even more systematized, it will be important for firms to educate healthcare players and help mitigate the risks of medication confusion – particularly for patients. Partnering with pharmacists will require not only collaborating to ensure appropriate use by patients but also appraising pharmacy economics.

Rather than fighting this trend, life science strategists should embrace a view of the pharmacist as an extension of themselves. Although this view is not limited to the case of REMS, this special regulator-directed circumstance provides an excellent model for how life science firms can collaborate with pharmacists in order to optimize the risk-benefit profile of their products. As the pharmacy chains grow in prominence in altering and influencing patient flow as well as improving medication adherence on the “front line” of consumer-driven healthcare, biopharma companies will want to engage with these formidable system players with renewed vigor. Evidence translation to patients, and adherence to their medication by extension, depends on it.