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McKesson identifies five health system pharmacy trends to watch in 2017

And as many are now doing, the company is currently awaiting what will happen to the healthcare landscape under a new presidential administration.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

The McKesson Pharmacy Optimization team, a group of advisors that works to help elevate the value of pharmacies, has identified the top five trends that will impact hospital and health system pharmacies in 2017.

The first is continued growth in the specialty market. Growth in specialty pharmaceuticals spend continues to outpace growth in the overall pharmaceutical market and is the top spend category for health system pharmacies. The expansion of limited networks and exclusive distribution channels for many specialty pharmaceuticals challenge health systems' continuity of care initiatives, according to McKesson.

Yet opportunities still exist for health system pharmacy leaders who understand, and can demonstrate, the expertise required to build, buy or partner with specialty pharmacies. And with the growth of biosimilars, pharmacists are poised to play a critical role in evaluating the balance between risks and patient benefit.

[Also: McKesson buys HealthQX for value-based payment tools]

The leveraging of pharmacy analytics is also expected to be a trend. Integrating comprehensive analytics to track and monitor drug spend and use, patient care, and quality is a top priority for health systems. Organizations can use this information to make better decisions. The technology exists to make this a fairly simple endeavor: web-based portals exist that show users data on price trends and drug use, which helps identify causes of spending increases and waste, and maps ways to contain formulary costs.

Managing costs will always be important, but health systems' leaders are increasingly looking to pharmacy to generate more revenue and help improve margins; that's another trend McKesson expects will continue. This will keep driving growth of specialty and increased use of mail order to ship medications directly to patients' homes.

As healthcare consumerism grows, health systems will need to find new ways to capture patients, since network participation won't be enough. Case in point: Health systems can extend their continuum of care by providing discharge medications through their ambulatory/retail pharmacies. More and more, health systems are looking for partnership opportunities with retail pharmacies to share patient data, ensuring that all healthcare practitioners have access to current information.

[Also: In West Baltimore, scarce pharmacies leave health care gaps]

McKesson sees the centralizing of pharmacy operations as something to watch in 2017. Sometimes referred to as clinical telepharmacy, the centralization of pharmacy operations is designed to help large health systems utilize a centralized hub to manage costs, improve order entry and verification, and standardize policies and procedures. Using software tools and services like those from PipelineRx, large health systems can free up time for pharmacists and other staff to use more effectively on clinical patient care initiatives -- and generate revenue by servicing other hospitals, clinics or retail pharmacies.

This need for efficiency is also bolstering the use of centralized service centers to streamline pharmaceutical ordering, packaging and dispensing. These centralized functions can result in better efficiency and improved safety and cash flow, said McKesson.

[Also: Hospitals see on-site pharmacies as revenue generators as medication management pays off]

And of course, as many are now doing, McKesson is currently awaiting what will happen to the healthcare landscape under a new presidential administration. Healthcare reform and the Affordable Care Act were key issues throughout the election process, and it is clear that the new administration will look to make changes to the ACA in the coming years. What is not yet clear is how quickly these changes will be implemented and what the impact will be on health systems.

However, likely changes include the elimination of the individual mandate, a reduction in taxes associated with the law, the elimination of cost-sharing subsidies and reversing Medicaid expansion. Removing the mandate will increase the uninsured numbers as charity care cases go back up.

Twitter: @JELagasse