What Makes Specialty Pharmacy Special?

Guest Blog: Russell Gay, Chief Strategic Officer at BioPlus Specialty Pharmacy

Many people wonder how a specialty pharmacy is different from any other kind of pharmacy. Let me share the story of a multiple sclerosis (MS) patient, Michael, to illustrate the true value of a specialty pharmacy.

Michael wakes at 5 a.m. He feels the burning heat that never departed from the Louisiana afternoon. He stirs slowly in his dark bed away from the sheets that inflame his skin. He tests muscles with sloth-like movements and feels the fatigue that rest won’t vanquish. He rolls and reaches for his shirt…“must get up”…he slips his trembling 33-year-old hand heavily into the sleeve. With sweat beading on his brow, Michael rolls and reaches for the other sleeve. He grimaces as he raises his arms, but then falls back into the pillow: maybe no shirt today.

The mercies of the day—reading the paper, sipping coffee, visiting with friends, or working—all come under the category of “we’ll see how I feel.” Michael keeps his lifeline of supplies on his cluttered nightstand: his TV remote, pills, and phone. It could be worse. He remembers the first time his leg melted into the pavement, worrying about being alone, not being able to check on the smoke alarm, and the time his multiple sclerosis drugs didn’t arrive.

Michael’s physician reminds him that stress aggravates his symptoms. He shakes his head on reflection of all the things that have been robbed from him, the aggravation of trying to get help from a phone-tree plagued mail-order conglomerate, the hold times, the infinite transfers from one anonymous voice to another, the promised follow-up that never came.

And Then There Was Yaasmine

Last year, Michael’s health plan expanded its choice of specialty pharmacies. Its wide options included those that understood his treatment and provided counsel, kept the expensive drug on hand, and followed up to make sure the medications reached him. Yaasmine was the second person he spoke with that day.

Michael expected little more than yet another phone tree when he dialed the pharmacy, but instead he was greeted by a real person who introduced him to his new Care Coordinator, Yaasmine.

Yaasmine asked Michael how he was feeling and when he last took his MS medication, Rebif. She then set up co-pay assistance and conferenced in a pharmacist who reviewed his medications and suggested some relaxation techniques. Yaasmine reminded Michael that his medications would be at his home the next day but she would call again to make sure. And she did.

In fact, Yaasmine called each Wednesday morning, asking Michael when he took his medication, how he felt, and if he made it out of bed. It was Yaasmine who alerted Michael’s physician to his fall. Her calls were professional yet personal; clinical yet caring; they were anticipated and needed.

The Real Meaning of Specialty Pharmacy

Some of my friends still think of specialty pharmacy as a distribution model. Injectables go from a big box to be labeled and shipped in a little box before landing on a patient’s door step. Maybe that’s mail-order, it most certainly is not specialty.

Specialty pharmacies, like Yaasmine’s, provide a support system to monitor, measure, and improve patient outcomes. They provide a care continuum that connects the patient with the health plan and the network of providers. They know their patients.

Some Companies Provide Even More

At BioPlus, we use our specially trained RNs to educate patients and caregivers in their own homes. By teaching in this comfortable and familial setting, patients adhere better to therapy (91 percent compared to mail-order’s 50 percent), avoid unnecessary hospitalization because they have an around-the-clock Doctor of Pharmacy support system, and with patient-centric Care Coordinators like Yaasmine, patients are less likely to waste expensive medications.

Nearly a year ago BioPlus released TAP App, an intuitive application for physicians to monitor their patients in real-time. TAP App gives prescribers immediate access to the pharmacy chart. This web-based portal connects physicians with extensive information about their patients who are being treated through our specialty pharmacy.

With TAP App, prescribers have quick and easy access (through their smartphone, tablet, or laptop) to information about patient compliance, when refills are needed, drug profile reviews, and interventions by our pharmacy staff. Prescribers can even use TAP App to e-prescribe.

But nothing makes specialty pharmacy more special than people like Yaasmine. Specialty pharmacy’s niche-focused professionals help patients similar to Michael reach their goals, like taking their dad bass fishing this autumn or going back to work.

Specialty pharmacy means taking care of the patient, not just the drug.

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