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Walking the path forward for pharmaceutical access and stronger community healthcare relationships

As COVID-19 slowly begins to recede, the health care system continues to process the many lessons learned during the global pandemic and implement changes to support everyday operations and future crises.

From learning to stay operational despite lockdowns to mobilizing and administering COVID-19 vaccines, the ability to adapt quickly and efficiently in the moment as well as communicate and execute a plethora of change became the new normal for pharmacists, health systems and physician practices of all sizes. 

At the outset of the pandemic, physician practices were forced due to stay-at-home orders and other safety steps to adopt almost overnight telehealth technology, revamp office operations to interact with patients at a distance as well as monitoring and responding to supply demand. In the year-and-a-half since the lockdowns, oncology and other specialty practices are starting to report a return to more normal patient volumes.

“The last year has really shown us how resilient we are and how collaborative we can all be together,” Kenny Yu, Senior Director of Pharmacy Services at NYU Langone Hospitals, said. “We all had to go through crisis management but through that came a lot of opportunity for us to think differently, think creatively, and work together for the common denominator—our patients.”

Jennifer Shannon, owner of Lily’s Pharmacy in Johns Creek, Georgia, and an AmerisourceBergen customer, got a front row view of the impact COVID-19 had on the community she serves and how adopting change and building relationships is evolving.

“When we started expanding our services and then offering vaccines to our community at high levels of participation it opened the eyes of a lot of people as to what we do,” Shannon said. “We were there every day and through that we were able to grow our business and practice tremendously and we are going to spin into different directions because we now have the ability to do that.”

Shannon added that the existing relationships the pharmacy had with its doctors and local hospital were further enhanced and the pharmacy is now working directly with employers in the community to “kind of cut out the in-between and just be their pharmacist provider.”

Being an agile provider is now a must, but it’s also essential as the system looks to address another critical lesson the pandemic has taught us: gaps in health care must be closed.

The timing has never been more critical, especially as the pharmaceutical pipeline holds promise for potentially curative and groundbreaking therapies. In fact, there are more than 40 cell and gene therapy products that have the potential for FDA approval by 2024. As promising and innovative as those therapies may be, they will require new levels of coordination ranging from complex logistics to provider preparations and patient services to improve patient outcomes. That’s what Jenny Sherak, Senior Vice President of Specialty Physician Services at AmerisourceBergen has been focusing on since joining the company earlier this year. Prior to AmerisourceBergen, Sherak headed Takeda Pharmaceutical’s oncology pipeline commercialization and BD group that focused on new product innovation.

“One of the big issues I’ve seen coming out of COVID is just how critical the connection is between pharmaceutical manufacturers and community physician practices,” Sherak said. “In order to take the next step to improving access to advanced therapies, it is essential to create partnerships that are built on mutual respect, trust, communication and value.”

Those partnerships and connections will be critical in getting those new, expensive and fragile treatments to the right patient at the right time, but also to communities and populations that might fall through the cracks, she said. 

Measuring Success 

Success in addressing health disparities for Sherak will be measured in how well AmerisourceBergen can support independent physician and specialty practices, which treat patients close to homes and are deeply embedded in communities, particularly in advancing access to research opportunities and clinical trials and supporting practices with the latest requirements and information in precision medicine, based on today’s pipeline.

There will be an increased need for genetic testing of patients in order to tie them to a specific genetic treatment they or their provider might not have known about. ION Solutions, a part of AmerisourceBergen, offers Precision Medicine Testing Recommendations that leverages a network of more than 5,300 community oncologists and researchers to identify potential candidates in more diverse geographic regions as well as aid in determining when and how to test and receive payer reimbursement for testing.

Earlier this year, AmerisourceBergen made a strategic investment in TrakCel, a leading supplier of cellular orchestration solutions supporting the cell and gene therapy industry. Through an ongoing collaboration, AmerisourceBergen and TrakCel and working to design an end-to-end solution that will enable more seamless integrations and workflows, with an initial focus on enhancing patient access to commercial cell and gene therapies. 

The company recently began offering Prime Therapeutics’ IntegratedRx – Oncology program to eligible hospital, health system and independent oncology practice customers. Many of today’s payer and reimbursement models restrict physicians and health systems’ abilities to holistically manage patients and directly dispense medications at the site of care. Prime’s IntegratedRx – Oncology totally changes up the current model. The program allows oncology patients to receive oncolytic and companion medications directly from their oncologist or affiliated pharmacy. The hope is that the program will create expanded commercial access to oral oncolytics, enhanced clinical oversight of cancer patients, and will lead to increased administrative efficiencies for providers.

“We’ve been busy looking ahead, making investments, and developing partners to break down some of the biggest barriers in health care today,” Sherak said. “We aren’t going to solve this issue overnight, but we’re laser focused on achieving our goals and creating healthier futures.”

To learn more about how AmerisourceBergen anticipates supply and demand and the role of distributors in the supply chain please visit: https://www.amerisourcebergen.com/value-of-the-distributor

This article was created in collaboration with the sponsoring company and our sales and marketing team. The editorial team does not contribute.