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Comparing the PBM Drug Trends

This is the “exciting” time of year when the PBM Drug Trend Reports come out.  With the exception of last year, I’ve reviewed them every year.  I reviewed the 2013 Express Scripts Drug Trend Report the other day, and I’ll try to do both the CVS Caremark and the CatamaranRx reports this week.  The only one I’m still waiting to see is the Prime Therapeutics report.  And, as far as I know, there aren’t any other PBMs that publish reports annually.  (but please correct me if I’m wrong)

I’ll reiterate several points:

  • The methodologies used by each PBM can and may vary.  Therefore, these are not necessarily perfect comparisons.
  • I would question whether trend is the right metric in isolation to view the PBM.  (more to come in another post on PBM differentiation)
  • The client mix by PBM does matter (see chart below from the CVS Caremark report this year which shows the differences by client type).

CVS Caremark Drug Trend 2013

Here are the summaries from the 3 Drug Trend Reports showing the trend in PMPM costs based on traditional categories, specialty medications, and an overall trend.

PBM Drug Trend Comparisons 2013

Interview With David Tripi – Janssen Healthcare Innovation

A few weeks ago, as a follow-up to my discussion with Aetna about CarePass, I had a chance to talk with David Tripi from Janssen Healthcare Innovation about their new solution.

David is a founding partner at Janssen Healthcare Innovation where he is part of a multi-disciplinary group working toward the goal of propelling the company to become the leader in the healthcare solution business. Prior to the launch of the JHI team, David was with Johnson & Johnson for over 15 years.

“Janssen Healthcare Innovation (JHI), an entrepreneurial group within Janssen Research & Development, LLC, develops cutting-edge health solutions designed to modernize healthcare delivery, improve patient outcomes, and create a healthier world.”  This is a 3-year old effort by Johnson & Johnson focused on integrated care businesses and enabling technologies.  To support those, medication adherence and mobile are key areas.

One thing that David stressed is that they are platform agnostic and that their Care4Today Mobile Health Manager works as both an app and via SMS.  Therefore, the 50% of the US that doesn’t have a smartphone can still use it.  Additionally, it’s not a product or drug specific solution.  You can use this even if you don’t use a J&J product.

Care4Today Care4Family

Adherence is a huge challenge that everyone is aligned around, and everyone is trying to find solutions – plan design, incentives, apps, consumer engagement, framing, behavioral economics, and smart pill bottles (to name a few).  So, what’s part of the Care4Today solution?

  • It has reminders for Rx and OTC products.
  • It has a refill reminder process which they hope to automate in the future.
  • It has a two way secure messaging platform.
  • It has images of over 20,000 pills.
  • And, they also included a caregiver strategy and an incentive option.

The idea of social health is important.  We’ve talked about this for weight loss and smoking.  But, with the expanded role of caregivers, can they play a key role in improving adherence?  For example, if you respond that you didn’t take your pill and the response goes to your caregiver, will they call you?  Will that follow-up motivate you?  (Care4Family)  Some prior research says yes.

A broader question might be about how to pick a caregiver or how to define it.  Should it just be your family?  Should it include your physician?  What if you don’t have a support system?  Could the healthcare companies or advocacy companies give you a “professional caregiver”?  What about an avatar as a caregiver?

I asked about the incentive program that they included (Care4Charity).  David pointed out that using apps isn’t fun (at least for most people) so they wanted to give a slight motivation.  I questioned him on why $0.05 (which is the daily donation if you check in and take your meds).  They did lots of research which showed that the amount didn’t really matter.  So, this is an experiment to see if this extra feature of the program will nudge people to be more adherent.  Or ultimately, it would be great to segment the population to understand who it was motivating for and for whom it didn’t matter.

One of the things I wondered about was how they were going to promote the app.  Obviously, relationships with companies like Aetna and their CarePass program are one way, but with the tens of thousands of apps out there, how will people find it?  David told me that they were going to initially focus on social media – Facebook, Twitter, and mommy blogs – to drive awareness.  Next, they’re going to use pharma reps to discuss the app with physicians and pilot this strategy in HIV.

At the time, they’d had over 55,000 consumer downloads, and they’ve already gotten some initial feedback from physicians that like the fact that they’re offering solutions that aren’t branded to a specific pharmaceutical product.  Some of those physicians are already offering it to patients.  They expect this will be a big driver.  They are now starting to talk with retail pharmacies about how to encourage consumer use.  While my initial reaction was that this would be “competitive” with the Walgreens and CVS Caremark mobile solutions, they see collaboration opportunities especially with Walgreens and their open API.

Of course, I wondered about how the app was being used, but they don’t collect PII (personally identifiable information).  In the future, they plan to offer an option for patients to opt-in to share information and create a clinic dashboard for physicians to see which patients are using it and providing them with data.  And, with a new collaboration with HealthNet, consumers will be logging into the app with their HealthNet ID which will allow them to link up PII and PHI (protected health information).

So, what’s next…

  • They’ve launched in the US and France.  They’re expanding into the UK and other countries next.
  • They’re adding Spanish in Q1-2014.
  • They’ve just completed some human factor testing which will drive some UI and UX changes.
  • They’re going to do some testing and look at results with whatever data is available.
  • They’re going to try to partner with as many people as possible.

Will it move the needle around adherence?  It’s still too early to tell.  But, it’s great to see pharma testing new strategies and working in new ways with payers to try to address this challenge.

Pharmacy Satisfaction – Retail Beats Mail

With the new JD Powers survey, the gap between retail pharmacy satisfaction and mail order has widened. The average mail order satisfaction score was 797 for mail versus 837 (out of 1,000) for retail.

I think one key comment from Scott Hawkins, director of the healthcare practice at JD powers was:

“One of the key things we’ve seen in the data is that if someone is feels compelled to use a mail-order [pharmacy] their satisfaction score is going to be lower than someone who chooses to use it on their own.” (From Nov 2013 Employee Benefits News article by Andrea Davis)

If I was still at a PBM, I’d push to see the results broken out both ways so I could compare apples to apples the then say the drag was from clients choosing mandatory mail.

The rankings for mail order were:

Kaiser – 868
Humana – 845
Walgreens Mail – 812
OptumRx – 798
Prime Therapeutics – 794
Express Scripts – 783
Aetna – 778
Cigna – 771
Caremark – 760

The two I find the most interesting are Prime Therapeutics and OptumRx as both of them have moved their mail order services in house in the past few years and seem to be doing well with it. Aetna has outsourced their solution to Caremark and Cigna just recently outsourced their mail order to Catamaran which wasn’t on the list (but may be in the survey).

If E-Prescribing Doesn’t Have All The Data…Is It Helpful?

This is an interesting dilemma.  At this point, I think everyone is pro e-prescribing even if it’s simply for the benefit of reducing errors.  But, I think the original intent of the solutions were to do a lot more than reduce errors.

The hope was to improve adherence (which I think may have been too lofty).  The idea was that e-prescribing would reduce the abandonment rate at the pharmacy.  I’m not sure picking up a prescription is the same as taking a prescription.  And, taking a prescription once isn’t the same as staying adherent over time.

Another hope was that the use of e-prescribing would drive formulary compliance and increase generic utilization.  The idea was that putting this information in the hands of the prescriber would allow them to make more real-time decisions that were aligned with the consumer’s interests (i.e., lower out-of-pocket spend).  The latest report doesn’t seem to support this at all.  It also echos my prior posts about whether e-prescribing was aligned with pharma at all.

Fewer than half (47.5%) of the 200 PCPs polled said they have access to formulary information when e-prescribing, and fewer than a third said they have access to prior authorization (31.0%) or co-pay (29.5%) information. Among physicians with formulary information access, that information was available 61.1% of the time and was said to be accurate 68.6% of the time.

Physicians with an EMR (54.1%) were more likely to have access to formulary information than physicians without an EMR (29.6%). And differences were seen depending on the EHR vendor: Allscripts physicians (32.2%) were less likely to have access to this information than “All Other” software suppliers (60.5%), Epic physicians (62.5%) and eClinicalWorks (68.8%). 

Another big effort that e-prescribing and integration with EMR was going to have was to push utilization management (UM) to the POP (point of prescribing) rather than having the pharmacy and the PBM dealing with it.  I never really thought this would work.  If the information isn’t there or they don’t trust the information, the prescriber isn’t going to want to deal with this.  It’s already work that they let their staff handle and isn’t something they want to deal with during the patient encounter.

While e-prescribing is definitely here to stay and becoming the norm, the question is whether it’s creating simply a typed “clean” Rx to transmit electronically or whether it’s actually an intelligent process which will enable better care.

Given multiple studies and surveys recently about transparency in healthcare billing and the general push with Health Reform to drive to outcomes, I’m not sure the “dumb” system process can be a sustainable value proposition.

Three Recent Specialty Pharmacy Reports

Last week, I noticed three recent reports that have come out about specialty pharmacy.  I haven’t had a chance to really dig in to them , but I thought I’d pull out a few of the PR highlights and share the report links here.

The first report is from the Center for Healthcare Supply Chain Research and Health Strategies Group — “Specialty Pharmacy: Implications of Alternative Distribution Models” — which looks at how providers are using buy-and-bill and white bagging.

Karen J. Ribler, Executive Vice President and COO of the Center, notes, “Distributing specialty pharmaceuticals is complex; curbing costs is just one of the many facets of providing patient-centered healthcare. Site-of-care and day-of administration dosage requirements revealed themselves as determining factors for supporting the use of one method over another. A critical look at unintended consequences leads to our conclusion that Buy and Bill is, for the time being, the preferred model for practitioners of medium to large oncology clinics, but that could change as specialty treatments evolve.”

CVS Caremark just released their report Specialty Trend Management – Where To Go Next.  In there, they say:

Infusions are increasingly being done in a hospital setting where the costs for both the drug and its administration can be the highest of all potential sites of care.  For example, costs for a standard dose of a drug for rheumatoid arthritis can vary from $3,259 for the drug and $148 for administration when infused at the patient’s home to $5,393 for the drug and $425 for the administration when infused as an outpatient procedure at a hospital. In fact, the hospital setting is typically the least cost-effective site of care for infusions. (source)

As I’ve been doing lots of work lately in identifying and segmenting the population for Population Health Management, I found this chart interesting:

Image

http://lab.express-scripts.com/prescription-drug-trends/specialty-drug-spending-to-jump-67-by-2015/

And, last month, Prime Therapeutics released a report on Specialty Pharmacy which I blogged about.

Express Scripts Excludes 48 Drugs On 2014 Formulary

Is anyone really surprised here?  We saw CVS Caremark make some changes a few years ago that caught everyone’s attention.  (You can see a good list of 2013 and 2014 removals and options here for CVS Caremark.)  This year, it’s Express Scripts (ESRX) who’s caught the attention of the press.

Why do this?  I think Dr. Steve Miller did a great job of explaining it in a recent interview.  The most interesting thing to come out of this was the possible link to copay cards.

Pharmalot: Where to from here?

Miller: We obviously have a long-term strategy. This has sent a loud message to the marketplace that we have got to preserve the benefit for patients and plan sponsors and do things to rein in costs. As there are more products in the marketplace that are interchangeable, we’ll do more to seek the best value for our members. This is just the beginning of a multi-step process over the next several years.

Will there be more to come?  Of course.  The PBMs have to make a significant show of lowering the number of formulary drugs especially in the oral solid (traditional Rx) space to make the point to the pharmaceutical manufacturers that they control market access.  This is critical for them to create more opportunities in the specialty Rx space around rebates.  (Here’s the 2014 Express Scripts exclusion list)

Additionally, this is a low risk strategy for several reasons:

  • The disruption is minimal.  While 780,000 people sounds like a lot, it’s still just 2.6% of the population covered by these formularies.  The savings the employer will generate per disrupted member will pay for the extra customer service needed.  (Harsh reality to some people…I know)
  • As I’ve discussed before, the margins are in specialty pharmacy and mail order generics not in branded drugs which represent less than 20% of all drugs.  Therefore, this is a good place to make a stand.
    • From an old JP Morgan analysis from 2011, Lisa Gill estimated the PBM profits to be (all in 30-day equivalents):
      • $1.69 retail brand drug
      • $2.03 mail brand drug
      • $3.00 retail generic drug
      • $13.00 mail generic drug
  • This is based on a clinical review by an independent P&T committee.  Therefore, this is aligned with the health reform focus on outcomes and value.

New/Old Accusations About PBMs And Their Margins

PBMs (or Pharmacy Benefit Managers) are big business.  Just look at a few of the names and their place on the Fortune 500 list:

Not surprisingly, none of those are non-profits.  There is real money being made here.  It’s all part of the mark-up game in healthcare.  The question of course is does the money being made justify the profits.  For example, I’m happy to pay my banker lots of money as long as he’s earning me more than he’s making (and significantly more).

This is a complicated question.  (see past posts on What’s Next, Why People Don’t Save With Mail, and Growing Mail Order)  I’ve also presented on this topic several times in the past pointing out that the model needs to change, and re-iterating the fact that PBMs made a mistake by putting all their profits in the generic space.  I’ve always said that disintermediation would happen by focusing on generics at mail which is where all the money was at Express Script (8 years ago).  [People remind me that some of this has changed and is different across PBMs.]

The new Fortune article by Katherine Eban called “Painful Prescription” certains shows a dark story.  It focuses exactly on one of these scenarios which is the gap between acquisition cost and client cost.  The article talks about paying $26.91 for a drug but selling it to the client at $92.53.  I’m always reminded of the fact that at one time we used to buy fluoxetine (generic Prozac) for about $0.015 per pill.  On the flipside, we had brand drugs that we bought for more than we got reimbursed and lost money.  It was strange model.

So, here’s my questions:

  1. Do you want transparency?  If so, there are lots of “transparent PBMs” and many larger PBMs will do transparent deals.  You can also follow the Caterpillar model.  (Don’t forget that pharmacy represents less than 20% of your total healthcare spend so you can find yourself down the rabbit hole here trying to shave 2% of spend on 20% or 0.4% of your costs with a lot of effort.)
  2. Are you focused on anamolies like this one or average profits per Rx?
  3. Do you have the right plan design in place?
  4. Do you have a MAC (maximum allowable cost) list both at retail and mail order for generics?
  5. Are you getting the rebates and any admin fees from pharma for your claims passed through to you at the PBM?
  6. If you pay the PBM on a per Rx basis (i.e., no spread allowed), what are they doing to keep your drug costs down year over year (i.e., they have no more incentive to push down on suppliers)?
  7. Are you benchmarking your pricing?  Look at reports from places like PBMI.  For many smaller clients, I often wonder if the savings they find you is worth the costs.

I’m sure there’s more since I’ve been out of the industry for a few years, but while I don’t intend to be the defender of the industry, I do like to bring some balance to the conversation.

Should Physicians Be Taught To Stop Trying?

With several recent articles about $100,000 plus cancer drugs, I was reminded of a conversation I’ve had with several oncologists. We were discussing how to use advanced illness counseling from companies like Vital Decisions to help people and their families manage through a terminal diagnosis.

On the one hand, that seems like a conversation that a physician could / should have, but I’ve highlighted some research on this before. On the other hand, in a FFS (fee for service) world, there is an incentive to keep doing everything possible regardless of costs and how long it extends life. Will this change in a value based payment model? I’d like to believe it will. There is so much money spent on care in the last few months of life with limited extension of life and questionable impact on quality of life that this may become more relevant.

But, what struck me in my discussions is that the oncologists said that no one ever taught them how to “give up” on the patient. They see success in curing the patient or getting the cancer in remission. Is that success? Is it giving up to stop pumping them full of drugs with minimal value? Is there a rationale price for each day of extended life?

We typical think of healthcare as an endless bowl of funds, but what if it was limited? What if we couldn’t just keep printing money and raising the debt ceiling? Should that $200,000 be spent to get two weeks of life for a 90-year old patient in pain or should it go to feed a family and provide them with medical care for several years?

I’m not sure who wants to make those decisions but I think there will be a day when we need to think differently about some of the healthcare choices we make.

Trajectory Modeling On Adherence By CVS

No one who works with consumers or who studies adherence should too surprised that people are different in how they fill their medications. I think companies are finally getting a better handle on longitudinal member records and ways of studying those patterns to determine how and when to intervene.

Our past behavior is always a great place to learn from about our future behavior but at the same time, people view different drugs and conditions differently. For example, I might be very likely to take my pain medication everyday since it’s a symptomatic condition versus my cholesterol medication since it’s an asymptotic condition. I also may take a different approach yo medications that have significant side effects.

At the same time, these data is well known so the quest for the “best” segmentation approach and behavior change model continues.

With that in mind, I finally got a chance to look at some research from September that researchers at CVS Caremark and Brigham and Women’s Hospital published in the journal Medical Care. They used trajectory modeling to follow statin users for 15 months and came up with six groups:

  • Brief gap in medication use or filled irregularly during the first nine months, but improved during the last six months (11.4 percent)
  • Slowly declining adherence throughout the 15 month period (11.3 percent)
  • Used statins only occasionally across the 15 month study period (15 percent)
  • Rapid decline in statin use after initiation (19.3 percent)
  • Virtually no fills after their initial fill (23.4 percent

They also identified some characteristics associated with adherence:

  • Higher adherence was seen with patients who were older, had higher incomes and held a high school diploma.
  • The highest adherence rates were associated with Medicare Part D clients and people who live in New England.
  • Those with the lowest adherence rates tended to be generally younger, male and less likely to have an initial prescription that provided them with more than a 30-day supply of medication.

Troyen A. Brennan, MD, MPH, Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of CVS Caremark:


“The use of trajectory models could help us more accurately identify patients at risk for medication nonadherence so we can develop and implement targeted interventions to help them stay on their medications for chronic health conditions.”

10 Healthcare Projects I’d Like To Solve

I always tend to see the glass half full so when I see a problem then I often want to rush in and try to fix it. With that said, here are 10 things that I’ve thought about that I’d like to fix or see as big opportunities:

1. The healthcare experience. While this is the third leg of the Triple Aim, it often seems like the one that is so hard for healthcare companies to get. The system is so fragmented that the patient often is forgotten.

2. Device integration. While devices are better and integration is possible, there is still a huge lift to integrate my data into the typical clinical workflow. This is only going to get much worse with ubiquitous use of sensors and will be the limiting factor in the growth of the Quantified Self movement. (See my post on FitBit)

3. Intelligent phones. This is something that people carry everywhere. They often live life through the phone sometimes missing out on reality. The phone has tons of data as I’ve described before. We have to figure out how to tap into this in a less disruptive way.

4. Consumer preferences. I’m a big believer in preference-based marketing. But the question is how do I disclose my preferences, to whom, and are my preferences really the best way to get me to engage. What would be ideal is if we could find a way to scale down fMRI technology and allow us to disclose this information to key companies so they could get us to take actions that were in our best interest. (see old post on Buyology)

5. Benefits selection. I’ve picked the wrong benefits a few times. This drives me crazy. As I mentioned the other day, the technology to help with this exists and all the data which sits in EMRs and PHRs should allow us to fix this problem.

6. The role of retail pharmacy. This is one of my favorite topics. With more retail pharmacies than McDonalds and a huge problem of access, pharmacies could be the key turning point in influencing change in this country.

7. Caregiver empowerment. Anyone who cares for an adult and/or child knows how hard it is to be a caregiver and take care of their own needs. This becomes even harder with the people being geographically apart. With all the sensors and remote technology out there, I see this being a hot space in the next decade.

8. The smart house. As an architect, I’ve always dreamed of helping create the intelligent house where it knows what food you have. It manages your heat and light. It tracks your movements and could call for help if you fall. I see this being an opportunity to empower seniors to live at home longer.

9. Helping the disenfranchised. For years, we’ve all seen data showing that income can affect health. The question is how will we fix this. Coverage for all is certainly a critical step but that won’t fix it. We have a huge health literacy issue also. Ultimately, public health needs a program like we had to get people to wear seat belts. We need yo own our fate and change it before we end up like the humans in the movie Wall-e.

10. A Hispanic healthcare company in the US. With 16% of the US that speak Spanish, I’m shocked that I haven’t seen someone come out with a health and wellness company that is Hispanic centric in terms of the approach to improving care, engaging consumers, and providing support.

So, what would you like to solve?

The Healthcare Mark-up Game – Driving Up Healthcare Costs

The idea of healthcare costs and the need for healthcare transparency has become a front page issue. With the shift to consumer driven healthcare and high deductible plans, the average consumer is increasingly aware of what things cost. And companies like Change Healthcare provide tools to help consumers navigate this maze.

But, what I don’t hear many people discuss is the issue of middlemen and how this adds cost to the system. I’ve worked for several middlemen so I think I understand the model well. Of course, these companies make good (and true) arguments which is that they lower costs due to scale based efficiencies. But, healthcare is big business so everyone has to get paid somehow. Some of the “non-profits” make the most money.

Let’s look at prescription drugs:
- This begins with the manufacturer who adds the marketing and sales costs to the actual ingredient and packaging and shipping costs.
- The drug is then shipped to a wholesaler who stocks the drugs and ships them to pharmacies.
- The drugs are then sold by the pharmacy to the consumer and the pharmacy bills the payer.
- Assuming the payer isn’t the actual employer, the payer will then bill the employer.

So who all gets paid in this process:
- The manufacturer of the drug
- The advertising companies (they name the drug, they create the packaging, they create the ads)
- The marketing companies (they set up the websites, they create the mobile apps)
- The law firms (trademarks, patents)
- The sales companies (they hire and manage the pharma reps)
- The data company (the manage the Rx data to help target the reps)
- The shipping companies (transportation)
- The wholesaler
- The pharmacy
- The marketing and communication companies (refill programs, on the bag messaging)
- The technology companies (switch company, adjudication company)
- The recruiters (hiring, staffing)
- The PBM (contracting, rebating, customer service)
- The payer (adjudication, customer service, risk management)
- The broker (commission)

Still wonder why healthcare is expensive?

I wish I had an easy answer. A lot of these services are needed and it would cost more if the employers all had to do this themselves. There would be no scale. There would be no efficiencies.

This is certainly one argument for the efficiencies of a single payer system but I don’t think that’s very efficient IMHO.

Retail Pharmacies As The Distribution Point For Information

It’s always exciting to be “right” in a prediction.  When I spoke at the CBI conference a few weeks ago, one of the key points I made was that today’s healthcare consumer is overwhelmed with information.  They get conflicting data.  They don’t have enough time with their physicians.  They are increasingly responsible for decisions and even with transparency, they don’t always know what to do.  With that in mind, one of my suggestions was that retail pharmacies had a great opportunity to step in and be this information management source for consumers.  (aka – The retailers can serve as the physical resource for the retailing of healthcare.)

With that in mind, I find the announcements by Walgreens and CVS very interesting.

From the CVS press release:

“Humana’s partnership with CVS/pharmacy reflects our proven and ongoing commitment to educate individuals and their families at the places they go when they have questions about their health,” said Roy A. Beveridge, MD, Humana’s Chief Medical Officer. “We’re working to ensure people develop a better understanding of how their health coverage can help them make better, and healthier, decisions.”

“Providing information about new health insurance coverage opportunities is in keeping with our purpose of helping people on their path to better health,” said Helena Foulkes, Executive Vice President and Chief Health Care Strategy and Marketing Officer for CVS Caremark. “We are pleased to combine our innovative suite of services and our new and existing relationships with organizations such as Humana to help patients understand and have access to information about insurance options in their community.

From the Walgreen’s press release:

Walgreens store personnel are directing individual customers who inquire to the GoHealth Marketplace, a resource where they can shop and compare health insurance plans, enroll and find other important tools and information. Consumers can access the GoHealth Marketplace online from www.walgreens.com/healthcarereform or via phone at 855-487-6969. Walgreens also is providing informational brochures and other materials in stores.

“As an accessible, community health care provider serving more than 6 million people each day, Walgreens can help connect those customers who may be considering new health insurance options with resources and information,” said Brad Fluegel, Walgreens senior vice president and chief strategy officer. “Our goal is to help ensure people fully understand the marketplace, and working with GoHealth, to provide personalized consultation from experts who can help them make informed decisions.”

In both cases, they may have addressed one of my questions about this strategy from my presentation which was how would they monetize this.  I think it’s the right role, but I wasn’t sure how it would lead to revenue other than general revenue related to store traffic.  I assume both of these have some “commission” or “referral fee” for traffic generated.

Retail Pharmacy As The Digital Medical Home

I’m excited to deliver my presentation on the topic about the retail pharmacy as the digital medical home tomorrow at the intersection of three CBI conferences – Point of Care Summit, Retail Strategy Summit, and Strategic Distribution Planning for Specialty Products.  As always, I’m sharing my slides below via SlideShare, and I’ll set up some tweets to give you the cliff note version.

The key here IMHO is that retailers are best positioned to take advantage of this, but the key points are:

  1. Why retail pharmacy?
    • Retail pharmacies have trust from consumers.
    • Easily accessible.
    • Pharmacy is the most used benefit.
  2. What’s the challenge?
    • Successfully engaging the consumer.
    • Integration with the provider so there are process oriented care gaps.
    • Data.
  3. What needs to happen?
    • Focus on the golden moments for engagement.
    • Systemic model for engagement – e.g., Prochaska.
    • Tools and skills to motivate the consumer – e.g., Motivational Interviewing, Incentives.

OMG – Prescription Coupons Could Cost Consumers More

Talk about an article that seems a few years late to the party…

Anyways, I was reading a link from the PCMA today about an article on philly.com about copay cards.  It stresses several points:

  • The cards are typically only for 90-days.
  • The cards get people started on brand drugs not generics.
  • People are less likely to switch to generics after they use the brand.
  • This costs people more money over time.

I’ve talked about copay cards many times and presented on this topic at the PCMA conference a few years ago.

Let me give some quick thoughts here.

  1. The cards may typically be for only 90-days, but most people that drop off therapy or titrate to other strengths do so in the first 90-days so perhaps this is saving some money.
  2. Of course, it’s for brand drugs not generics.  That’s the business model we’ve created in this country where generics are priced at pennies so there is no marketing to support those products.  It’s the PBMs and pharmacies that do the marketing for generics since they are the ones making money here.
  3. I think it’s a fair generalization that people are less likely to switch, but this is the problem.  If the drugs are the same (per the FDA), why is this an issue?  Is it an educational issue.  Or, is there really a difference?
  4. I’m not sure the consumer cost is the issue.  That’s marketing 101.  Don’t most consumers understand this issue that sales and coupons drive you to build loyalty often to higher priced products.  I think the debate here needs to stay on the payer who pays 70-80% of the drug costs.  They are the ones who really have an issue here since they don’t control the decision made in the market.

This one doesn’t seem to be going away, but I’m not seeing any net new information.

Walgreens and Express Scripts Collaborate To Compete With CVS Caremark

The recent press from Walgreens and Express Scripts is interesting on several fronts:

  1. We worked for years even when I was there to try to figure out a win-win around 90-day with Walgreens.  It wasn’t easy.
  2. Walgreens and Express Scripts have a “colorful” past regarding working together.
  3. This is definitely in the best interest of the patient which we don’t always see everyday in healthcare.
  4. This is a definite recognition of the success of the Maintenance Choice program by CVS Caremark.

Here’s some language from the Walgreens’ press release.

Under the new option, plan sponsors that choose to include Walgreens as part of the Smart90 program for their pharmacy benefit will provide their members who have chronic conditions such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, the choice to receive 90-day supplies of maintenance medications through home delivery from Express Scripts or directly at a Walgreens retail pharmacy for the same copayment. Pending adoption by benefit plan sponsors, plan members could access Smart90 Walgreens as early as January 2014.

“Working together with Express Scripts, Smart90 Walgreens will offer more pharmacy locations and better member access coverage than any single retail chain 90-day maintenance medication solution in the nation,” said Kermit Crawford, President of Walgreens Pharmacy, Health and Wellness. “Through Smart90 Walgreens, our more than 8,000 Walgreens retail pharmacies will provide plan sponsors with cost savings and will offer their members safe, easy and convenient access to important in-person pharmacist consultations and a wide-range of health and wellness services that can further improve medication adherence and lower overall healthcare costs.”

“Members will be able to continue to receive the safety, convenience, cost savings and care offered from Express Scripts home delivery pharmacies,” said Glen Stettin, M.D., senior vice president of research and new solutions at Express Scripts. “Our data are clear: 90-day prescriptions delivered to a member’s home improve medication adherence and health outcomes, lower the cost of care and add convenience when compared to 30-day prescriptions. Over the past few years, our Smart90 program has driven more 90-day prescriptions for participating clients, and we’re pleased to now offer this additional option.”

Walgreens Clinic Rebranding Is More Than A Name Change

As I talked about in my post about Walgreens and innovation, Walgreens has renamed their TakeCare Clinics to Healthcare Clinics at some locations.  This is more than just a meaningless name change.  This is the beginning of a business model change.  This is the shift from acute care to ongoing chronic disease management.  This is a big move that changes their place in the healthcare value chain.

It’s part of the overall strategy that has pulled them into the ACO space.

It will be interesting to see if CVS Caremark and their MinuteClinics follow them.  CVS Caremark already announced a different strategy in terms of providing advocates.  If I were them, I would jump fully into the remote monitoring / mHealth space and provide chronic disease management from a remote basis.  I think this would be different and innovative.

Walgreens Healthcare Clinics

Should You Care That Obesity Is Now A Disease?

The AMA has opened an interesting discussion in the past few days with their decision to recognize obesity as a disease.  On the one hand, we all know obesity is a problem that’s impacting our overall health and productivity across the world.  On the flip side, will this actually change anything?

Key discussion points:

  • What is a disease?
  • Is BMI a good metric to use?  If not, what should be used to measure obesity – waist?
  • How do you treat it?

Here’s a few quotes from some articles:

“Right now, physicians will treat high blood pressure, diabetes, give patients medications and say, ‘Oh you also need to lose weight,’” Khaitan told FoxNews.com. “I think (this) gives the physicians a little more credibility in pushing patients to address obesity and become healthier. It’s recognized as a disease…not just something that (because) you have poor lifestyle habits, this is your problem.”  (Fox News)

Obesity is not just a health risk but a disease. Estimates of the genetic contribution to weight gain in susceptible families range from 25—40% with a greater heritability for abdominal fat distribution of 50%1>2.  Obviously there is a major environmental effect but this genetic susceptibility alone removes this condition from a social stigma to the disease category.  (British Medical Bulletin 1997)

“The American Medical Association’s recognition that obesity is a disease carries a lot of clout,” says Samuel Klein, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. “The most important aspect of the AMA decision is that the AMA is a respected representative of American medicine. Their opinion can influence policy makers who are in a position to do more to support interventions and research to prevent and treat obesity.”  (USA Today)

Telling all obese people that they have a disease could end up reducing their sense of control over their ability to change their diet and exercise patterns. As experience with addictions has shown, giving people the sense that they suffer from a disease that is out of their control can become self-defeating. So the disease label should be used sparingly: just as not all drinking is alcoholism, not all overeating is pathological. (Time)

Here’s a few facts from the Obesity Action Coalition:

  • In the United States, it is estimated that 93 million Americans are affected by obesity.
  • Individuals affected by obesity are at a higher risk for impaired mobility and experience a negative social stigma commonly associated with obesity.
  • Socioeconomic status plays a significant role in obesity. Low-income minority populations tend to experience obesity at higher rate and are more likely to be overweight.
  • In 2001, the states with the top five percentages for obesity were Mississippi, West Virginia, Michigan, Kentucky and Indiana.
  • Almost 112,000 annual deaths are attributable to obesity.
  • In the United States, 40 percent of adults do not participate in any leisure-time physical activity.

Here’s also a few things you might not realize about obesity from Yale:

  • Finding 1: Obesity can raise some cancer risks
  • Finding 2: Obesity is tied to heart attacks in younger adults
  • Finding 3: Obesity can ruin your day
  • Finding 4: Obesity speeds up girls’ puberty
  • Finding 5: Obesity is a cause of diabetes in kids
  • Finding 6: Obesity in middle age increases risk for dementia

Let me give my hypotheses on why this might matter:

  1. In theory, this is supposed to increase the likelihood that physician’s talk about obesity with their patients.  This would be great, but I think most research shows physician’s aren’t prepared or comfortable with this discussion.  Will the fact that it’s a disease make this easier?  Maybe.
  2. This may be a boon for the obesity Rx market (assuming any of them work and have minimal side effects).  Physician’s may be much more likely to write an Rx for a disease than a lifestyle issue.
  3. This may help get obesity Rxs and bariatric surgery to be covered by health insurance.  The downside of this is that more people may not actually change behavior (diet, exercise, sleep) but instead look for a “quick” fix through drugs and surgery.

In my mind, there is a best case scenario here:

  • Calling it a disease drives awareness among the healthcare community.
  • This increases investment in resources to treat obesity.
  • Treatment is viewed more like mental health to include drugs and behavioral therapy.
  • Physician’s get trained on the disease.
  • Pharma details physicians on the disease and creates CME programs.
  • Patients start to take this more seriously.
  • Plans cover obesity – insurers, employers, CMS.
  • Obesity becomes a broad program including diet, exercise, coaching, Rx, and bariatric surgery following a progressive approach to treatment tied to your starting point.
  • Companies link incentives to managing weight.
  • New metrics are designed that are better than obesity.

Of course, one of the more recent articles which was depressing on this topic was that exercising regularly may not overcome the impact of sitting the rest of the day.  That makes it very hard to increase caloric burn while having a job that requires lots of desk, computer, and meeting time.

Costs Of Obesity In America

Pharmacy Non-Adherence Infographic

While I’ve moved most of the infographics I find to my Pinterest account, I wanted to capture and share this one from Stephen Wilkin’s blog since it hits so many of the points that I try to make with people.

patient-non-compliance-infographic3

Could Generic Prescriptions Be The Greatest Placebo Ever?

Those of you who know me know that I’ve been a huge advocate for generic prescriptions since the early part of my PBM/pharmacy career in 2001. It wasn’t long ago that I talked about unresponsible reporting when slamming generics and scaring the population. But, we all enjoy a good conspiracy theory which is about the only thing that makes sense reading the new Fortune article – Dirty Medicine – about Ranbaxy. Both articles are written by the same author, but this one scares me a lot more than the other one. This article reads like a fiction book but appears to be true.  It should scare you also and put a spotlight on the FDA.

Here are a few things from the article.

On May 13, Ranbaxy pleaded guilty to seven federal criminal counts of selling adulterated drugs with intent to defraud, failing to report that its drugs didn’t meet specifications, and making intentionally false statements to the government. Ranbaxy agreed to pay $500 million in fines, forfeitures, and penalties — the most ever levied against a generic-drug company.

The company manipulated almost every aspect of its manufacturing process to quickly produce impressive-looking data that would bolster its bottom line. “This was not something that was concealed,” Thakur says. It was “common knowledge among senior managers of the company, heads of research and development, people responsible for formulation to the clinical people.”

It made clear that Ranbaxy had lied to regulators and falsified data in every country examined in the report. “More than 200 products in more than 40 countries” have “elements of data that were fabricated to support business needs,” the PowerPoint reported. “Business needs,” the report showed, was a euphemism for ways in which Ranbaxy could minimize cost, maximize profit, and dupe regulators into approving substandard drugs.

But, we know that generics have worked. People have gotten better so one has to assume this isn’t a massive fraud especially when 50% of generics have traditionally been made by the brand manufacturers themselves who would never risk their companies to do what Ranbaxy did. So, it made me wonder about the Placebo Effect. Did some drugs work simply because of that?  Is there anything else that would make sense for why this wasn’t discovered more quickly?

I’ve talked a lot about the Placebo Effect. There’s now even an app to make you feel better using the Placebo Effect.

I’m shocked that the PBMs, pharmacies, manufacturers, associations, wholesalers, and others aren’t out talking about this.  I would want to let the public know that this isn’t a systemic problem, but is one contained to one instance and that quality will be maintained…but maybe no one cares?

Why Do People Think Adherence Is So Easy?

I think we all know that medication adherence is a big deal. The most common number quoted is the $290B waste number from NEHI. There are numerous studies that confirm the value of non-adherence even one that just came out.

The amount of money spent on trying to improve adherence is huge! Pharma has worked on. Retail pharmacies have worked on it. Providers have worked on it. Insurance companies have worked on it. Employers have worked on it… And all of these have happened across the world.

At the same time, you see people get so excited about things don’t make any sense to me.

Let me take an easy example. A few months ago, a company called MediSafe put out a press release around moving medication adherence on statins up to 84.25%. Nothing against the company, but I read the press release and reached out to them to say “this is great, but it’s only 2 months of data…most people drop therapy after the first few months so who care…call me back when you get some good 12 month data.”

But, a lot of people got all excited and there was numerous press about this – see list of articles about them.

Now, tonight, I see another technology getting similar excitement. Fast Company talks about the AdhereTech technology which integrates a cellular phone with a pill bottle. And, it costs $60 a month. In my experience, companies wouldn’t even spend $2 a month to promote adherence so $60 is just impractical. The argument is that this is good for high cost specialty drugs that are oral solids not injectables. But, this isn’t a new idea. Glowcaps already built this model with a very slick interface and workflow.

And, I don’t know about you, but I think this would be obnoxious. And, I love data and am part of the QuantifiedSelf movement. I’m not sure I understand the consumer research here. I would have to believe all of the following to buy into this model.

  • Non-adherence people are primarily not adherent due to no reminders to take their medication on a daily basis.
  • People with chronic conditions that require high cost specialty drugs are going to change behavior because some bottle sends them a text message.
  • Manufacturers or some other healthcare company is willing to pay $60 a month for this service.
  • There won’t be message fatigue after a few months (weeks) of messaging.
  • Pharmacies would be have to be willing to change their workflow to use these bottles.

Yes. Will this work for some people…sure. But, if it helps 10% of people, then my cost is really $600 per success.

Should we be working on better solutions to address adherence…of course.

But, let’s stop trying to figure out some gimmick to fix adherence. Let’s look at root cause.

For example:

  • People don’t know why they’ve been given a medication.
  • People don’t understand their disease.
  • People can’t afford their medication.
  • People don’t know what to expect in terms of side effects.
  • People don’t see value in improving adherence.
  • People don’t know they have to refill their medications.
  • People aren’t health literate.

We have a lot of problems.

How Walgreens Became One Of The More Innovative Healthcare Companies

While we are generally a society focused on innovation from start-ups (and now all the incubators like Rock Health), there are a few big companies that are able to innovate while growing.  That’s not always easy and companies often need some catalyst to make this happen.  Right now, there are four established healthcare companies that I’m watching closely to track their innovation – Kaiser, United/Optum, Aetna, and Walgreens.  (Walgreens has made the Fast Company innovation list 3 of the past 4 years.)

I think Walgreens is really interesting, and they did have a great catalyst to force them to really dig deep to think about how do we survive in a big PBM world.  It seems like the answer has been to become a healthcare company not just a pharmacy (as they say “at the corner of Happy and Healthy”) while simultaneously continuing to grow in the specialty pharmacy and store area.

Let’s look at some of the changes they’ve made over the past 5 years.  Looking back, I would have described them as an organic growth company with a “not-invented-here” attitude.  Now, I think they have leapfrogged the marketplace to become a model for innovation.

  1. They sold their PBM.
  2. They re-designed their stores.
  3. They got the pharmacist out talking to people.
  4. They got more involved with medication therapy management.
  5. They increased their focus on immunizations increasing the pharmacists role.
  6. They formed an innovation team.
  7. They invested heavily in digital and drove out several mobile solutions including innovations like using the QR code and scanning technology to order refills.
  8. They’ve reached out to partner with companies like Johns Hopkins and the Joslin Diabetes Centers.
  9. They increased their focus on publications out of their research group to showcase what they could do.
  10. They started looking at the role the pharmacy could play and the medications played in readmissions.
  11. They partnered with Boots to become a much more global company.
  12. They offered daily testing for key numbers people should know like A1c and blood pressure even at stores without a clinic.
  13. They created an incentive program and opened it up to link to devices like FitBit.
  14. They partnered with The Biggest Loser.
  15. They increased their focus on the employer including getting into the on-site clinic space.
  16. They created 3 Accountable Care Organizations.
  17. They partnered with Novartis to get into the clinical trials space.
  18. They developed APIs to open their system up to developers and other health IT companies.
  19. They formed a big collaboration with AmerisourceBergen which if you read the quote from Greg Wasson isn’t just about supply chain.

    “Today’s announcement marks another step forward in establishing an unprecedented and efficient global pharmacy-led, health and wellbeing network, and achieving our vision of becoming the first choice in health and daily living for everyone in America and beyond,” said Gregory Wasson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Walgreens. “We are excited to be expanding our existing relationship with AmerisourceBergen to a 10-year strategic long-term contract, representing another transformational step in the pharmaceutical supply chain. We believe this relationship will create a wide range of opportunities and innovations in the rapidly changing U.S. and global health care environment that we expect will benefit all of our stakeholders.”

  20. They jumped into the retail clinic space and have continued to grow that footprint physically and around the services they offer with the latest jump being to really address the access issue and help with chronic conditions not just acute problems.

With this service expansion, Take Care Clinics now provide the most comprehensive service offering within the retail clinic industry, and can play an even more valuable role in helping patients get, stay and live well,” said Dr. Jeffrey Kang, senior vice president of health and wellness services and solutions, Walgreens. “Through greater access to services and a broader focus on disease prevention and chronic condition management, our clinics can connect and work with physicians and other providers to better help support the increasing demands on our health care system today.” (from Press Release)

This is something for the whole pharmacy (PBM, pharma, retail, mail, specialty) industry to watch and model as I talked about in my PBMI presentation (which I’m giving again tomorrow in Chicago).  It reminds me of some of the discussions by pharma leaders about the need to go “beyond the pill”.

 

Why CVS Caremark Asking For Your Weight Is Good For You

I continue to annoyed by all the fear-mongering in the industry around what CVS Caremark is “doing to their employees”.  What about focusing on how they are helping their employees to get better?  (If interested, you should read some of the information they have on their blog.)

Our “Plan for Health” combines an evolving, best-practice approach to health coverage with preventive care and wellness programs. Our colleagues will be more accountable for taking control of their health and associated costs. The first step is getting to know your numbers by getting a health screening and completing an online wellness review each year. If colleagues complete both by the May 1, 2013 deadline, they will avoid paying an additional $600 for the 2013-2014 plan year. (from the CVS Caremark blog)

I was hopeful to hear someone come out strongly and speak about it yesterday on CBS, but instead the CEO of Mercer just talked about “soft” programs that depend upon consumers being proactive around their health.  I would rather hear about the value of screenings and how it helps employees.  In talking with one friend of mine at a biometrics company, he told me that in one case almost 40% of the people that they identified with diabetes (or pre-diabetes) and hypertension (or pre-hypertension) didn’t know they had the disease (or were at high risk).  That to me is a valuable insight to the individual especially when coupled with a program to help them learn and manage their disease (or risk).

For example, companies for years have been using Health Risk Assessments (HRAs) to try to baseline employee health and use that to accomplish several things:

  1. Help the employee to understand their risks
  2. Identify people who should be in coaching programs to improve their health
  3. Learn about their population and how to improve their health benefits

Use of biometrics is the right evolution from the HRA.  People have tried HRAs for years with some success.  Companies pay as much as $600 for people to take this online survey that has no necessary link to reality.  Most HRAs aren’t linked to lab values.  Most HRAs aren’t linked to claims data.  Most HRAs don’t necessarily trigger enrollment in health programs.  They are supposed to activate the employee to be proactive which doesn’t work for many sick consumers especially those in the “pre-disease” phase.  (Here’s a good study that does show some increased activation.)

As I mentioned the other day, this use of biometrics and link between incentives and participation (and ultimately outcomes) is normal and will ultimately improve the link between the workplace and the employee around health.

Let’s take a broader look at insurance to help set some context:

  • For life insurance, you have to disclose certain data and depending on the policy level you have to do other things like get a physical and have blood work drawn.  That effects your costs and their underwriting.  
  • For car insurance, if you get in accidents, your costs go up.  In some case, you can have a monitoring device put on your car to lower your costs.  (like getting blood work done)
  • For home owners insurance, your costs go up if you live in a flood zone or a earthquake zone.  It also goes up if you have lots of claims.

Whether we want to admit it or not, we do determine a lot of our healthcare costs based on decisions we’ve made or had made for us since we were kids.  Some of these are conscious and some are subconscious.  And, obesity which is a large driver of many of these chronic conditions and has an impact on your likelihood of having cancer.  So, a company asking for your BMI and other data to help understand your risks for healthcare costs (of which they typically pick up 80%) doesn’t seem unusual.

Certainly, some are environmental such as those that live in “food deserts” like Detroit.  In other cases, workplace stress can affect our health.  We’re just starting to get smarter about “sitting disease” and it’s impact on our health.  Or, we may take medications that affect our blood pressure (for example).  It’s certainly important to understand these in context of your lab values and discuss a holistic strategy for improving your health with your physician and any care management resources which are provided to you (nurse, social worker, nutritionist, pharmacist).

This idea of learning more about employees in terms of biometrics, food, sleep, stress, social interaction, and many other data points is going to be more and more of a focus.  Companies want to learn how their employees do things.  They want to understand their health.  They want to improve their health.  They want to invest in their workforce to improve productivity, innovation, and ultimately job satisfaction.

While the glass half-empty people won’t see this and there are some companies that don’t always act this way, I generally believe that companies are trying to act in a way to increase their top line and most intelligent executives understand the correlation between health and wealth and the link between employee satisfaction and growth.

Ultimately, healthcare costs are estimated to put a $240,000 burden on us after we retire (even with Medicare) so if someone wants to help me become healthier and thereby save me money which improves my ability to retire and enjoy life I’m happy for them to do.

A Frustrating Pharmacy Experience Highlights Service Challenges #Fail

We all talk about the challenge of consumer engagement in healthcare.  If we can’t get consumers to engage, we’ll never get them to change behavior or be preventative.

But, as the recent Times article highlights, sometimes engagement still leads to failure which can be very frustrating.  As I think about my recent experience within the pharmacy system, I’m reminded of a comment that I re-tweeted yesterday.

In this case, I have connections which I suppose I could escalate this to, but it seems wrong that the only way to resolve my customer service issue is to call in personal favors from Express Scripts and CVS.

 

 

But, maybe that’s what I’ll have to do.  At this point, the only way I seem to be able to get my medication is to pay cash which seems like a total system failure.  (Thankfully, I can use the GoodRx app to figure out which pharmacies have the lowest cash price for me.)

So, here’s the scenario…

  • On 12/31/12, I requested a refill for my 90-day retail script that was getting filled at my local CVS store.  
  • I got busy and couldn’t go to pick it up until 1/2/13.
  • Obviously, my plan design changed on 1/1/13, and I was no longer eligible for 90-day retail scripts at CVS.
  • I asked the pharmacist to run it as a 30-day script.  They tried numerous times, but for whatever reason, they couldn’t get the 30-day script to go through.
  • I asked them to transfer the script to my local Schnucks (grocery store) pharmacy.
  • I filled the January 30-day script and a February 30-day script.
  • When I came back for my March refill, they were getting a RTS (refill-too-soon) reject from the PBM – Express Scripts.
  • The local pharmacist and I both jumped on our phones and talked to the pharmacy help desk and customer service at Express Scripts and got the same answer…”You should have another 59 days supply based on the 90-day Rx you picked up at CVS on 12/31/12.”
  • I tried explaining to the customer service rep that I never picked it up.  They said that I’d have to solve that with CVS since they show it in the Express Scripts system…which by the way had me very upset that it became my issue to resolve a problem between the pharmacy and the PBM.  The rep went on to explain to me that they don’t talk to retail pharmacies to resolve issues like this.  (This became one of very few times when I was shouting and upset on a customer service call.)
  • My local pharmacist called the CVS store that said they show the original claim, but it shows that they didn’t fill it.  They agreed to try to reverse it again.
  • One complicating factor here which I think is making this worse is that the 2012 plan was with Medco which has since been bought by Express Scripts.  As a new client to Express Scripts, I would assume Medco sent them an open refill file probably on 12/31/12 or 1/1/13.  A reversal after that day might never come over to Express Scripts.
  • So, I posted the above tweet out of frustration over a week ago.  Express Scripts’ social media team quickly followed-up and assigned someone to work the case…BUT, it’s still not fixed.
  • I talked to Express Scripts yesterday, and it was still something they were trying to resolve with CVS.
  • I talked with CVS who confirms that they never filled the script and show it never paid by Express Scripts.  They blame it on an issue with their software vendor that somehow the reversal was caught in the system.  They said it could get resolved in the next 48 hours.

Who knows when this will resolve itself, but everyone seems to be able to blame someone else here.  Never mind that the patient (me) can’t get their medication.  As someone who tries to look at this from the average consumer’s perspective, this is a nightmare and total customer experience failure.  I understand the system.  I understand plan design.  I know the pharmacists.  I know the teams at Express Scripts and CVS.  Even with all that, I’m stuck having to go outside the system, pay cash for my prescription, and hope that my paper claim will get processed and hit my deductible in my plan design.

fail-stamp

 

2013 PBMI Presentation On Pharmacy Need To Shift To Value Focus

Today, I’m giving my presentation at the PBMI conference in Las Vegas.  This year, I choose to focus on the idea of shifting from fee-for-service to value-based contracting.  People talk about this relative to ACOs (Accountable Care Organizations) and PCMHs (Patient Centered Medical Homes) from a provider perspective.  There have been several groups such as the Center For Health Value Innovation and others thinking about this for year, but in general, this is mostly a concept.  That being said, I think it’s time for the industry to grab the bull by the horns and force change.

If the PBM industry doesn’t disintermediate itself (to be extreme) then someone will come in and do it for them but per an older post, this ability to adapt is key for the industry.  While the industry may feel “too big to fail”, I’m not sure I agree.  If you listened the to the Walgreens / Boots investor call last week or saw some of things that captive PBMs and other data companies are trying to do, there are lots of bites at the apple.  That being said, I’m not selling my PBM stocks yet.

So, today I’m giving the attached presentation to facilitate this discussion.  I’ve also pre-scheduled some of my tweets to highlight key points (see summary below).

 

Planned PBMI Tweets

Only 50% Of Healthcare Companies Respond To Twitter Messages – Test Results

12 Of 23 Companies

As I mentioned a few weeks ago (2/2/13), I wanted to test and see if healthcare companies would respond to consumers via Twitter. To test this, I posted a fairly general question or message on Twitter to see the response (see below). Of the 23 companies that I sent a message to, only 12 of them ever responded even after 6 of them received a 2nd message. Those results are shared below. What I also wanted to look at was the average time to respond along with which group was more likely to respond.

  • PBMs – All of the 3 PBMs that I reached out to responded. (This could be biased by my involvement in this space since two of them e-mailed me directly once I posted a comment.)
  • Pharmacies – Only 2 of the 4 retail pharmacies that I reached out to responded.
  • Disease Management Companies – Only 1 of the 3 that I reached out to responded. (I was surprised since Alere often thanks me for RT (re-tweeting) them, but didn’t respond to my inquiry.)
  • Managed Care – 5 of the 7 companies that I reached out to responded. (For Kaiser, they responded once I changed from @KPNewscenter to @KPThrive.)
  • Health Apps or Devices – Only 1 of the 5 companies that I reached out to responded. (This continues to surprise me. I’ve mentioned @FitBit on my blog and in Twitter numerous times without any response or comment.)
  • Pharmaceutical Manufacturers – Only 1 of the 3 companies that I reached out to responded. (This doesn’t surprise me since they are very careful about social media. @SanofiUS seems to be part of the team that has been pushing the envelope, and they were the ones to respond. I thought about Tweeting the brands thinking that those might be monitored more closely, but I didn’t.)

I will admit to being surprised. I’m sure all of these companies monitor social media so I’m not sure what leads to the lack of response. [I guess I could give them the out that I clearly indicated it was a test and provided a link to my blog so they could have chosen not to respond.]

Regardless, I learned several things:

  1. Some companies have a different Twitter handle for managing customer service.
    1. @ExpressRxHelp
    2. @AetnaHelp
    3. @KPMemberService
  2. Some companies ask you to e-mail them and provide an e-mail.
  3. Some companies tell you to DM (direct message) them to start a dialogue.

From a time perspective, I have to give kudos to the Prime Therapeutics team that responded in a record 2 minutes. Otherwise, here’s a breakout of the times by company with clusters in the first day and approximately 2 days later.

Company

Response Time (Hrs:Min)

Prime Therapeutics

0:02

Aetna

1:12

LoseIt

1:19

Healthways

2:07

Walmart

3:01

Express Scripts

8:35

Kaiser

29:22

BCBSIL

47:32

OptumRx

47:39

BCBSLA

48:18

Sanofi

53:30

I guess one could ask the question of whether to engage consumers via Twitter or simply use the channel more as a push messaging strategy. The reality is that consumers want to engage where they are, and there are a lot of people using Twitter. While it might not be the best way to have a personal discussion around PHI (Protected Health Information) given HIPAA, it certainly seems like a channel that you want to monitor and respond to. It gives you a way to route people to a particular phone number, e-mail, or support process.

As Dave Chase said in his Forbes article “Patient engagement is the blockbuster drug of the century”, this is critical for healthcare companies to figure out.

The CVS Caremark team told me that they actively monitor these channels and engage with people directly. I also talked with one of the people on the Express Scripts social monitoring team who told me that they primarily use social media to disseminate thought leadership and research, but that they actively try to engage with any member who has an actionable complaint. They want to be where the audience is and to quickly take the discussion offline.

If you want to see the questions I asked along with the responses, I’ve posted them below…

How Quickly Do Healthcare Companies Respond To Twitter Comments? (Test)

I was intrigued by this test done over in the UK to look at how quickly retailers responded to comments via Twitter (you can see an infographic about similar US data below).  Obviously, more and more consumers are using social media.  And, we know that comments can go viral quickly especially when they’re negative.

“A recent Spherion Staffing Services survey shows that when consumers have a good customer service experience, 47 percent are likely to tell a company representative; 17 percent will express their opinions via social media; and 15 percent will write a review. The same survey from 2010 showed that only 40 percent of consumers were likely to share a great experience with a company representative—proving that consumers are becoming more vocal with companies they interact with. If consumers have a poor experience, 36 percent are willing to write a complaint directly to the company, and one in four will express their opinions on social media. Nineteen percent, the same statistic as last year, will choose to write a review online.” (December 2011 Study)

Of course, some people actively monitor their social media feeds while others view them more as a PR channel.  It also depends on whether the feed management is outsourced or insource and whether it’s monitored by marketing, operations, customer service, sales, or some combined team.

Here’s a good post on measuring response and activity within Twitter accounts.

So, what I’ve decided to do is a Twitter test similar to the one above.  I’m going to post the following to different categories of healthcare companies and see how quickly they respond.

  1. To retail pharmacies:  Are you using social media to handle customer service?
  2. To PBMs:  Are you using social media to handle customer service?
  3. To Managed Care: Where’s the best place to find out about your Medicare products?
  4. To mHealth companies:  Can you share examples of how employers are promoting your products?
  5. To pharma:  Are you doing any value-based contracting with PBMs?
  6. To device companies:  Can you share examples of how employers are promoting your products?

Who do you think will be the fastest to respond?  Will the bigger companies simply have more resources to monitor and staff their teams or with more digital companies be more in tune with social media?

KeepingUpWithTwitter_2

Why We Need Whole Patient Adherence Programs

While prescription adherence continues to be a $290B+ problem, we still address the problem in a drug by drug approach due to silos within our healthcare value chain.

For example:

  • Generic drugs (about 80% of the prescriptions filled) are the lowest cost and most profitable drugs (to the suppliers).  For these medications, you’ll usually have several programs:
    • Refill reminder calls, text messages, letters
      • From the PBM
      • From the retail pharmacy
      • From the mail pharmacy
  • Auto-refill programs
  • Brand drugs are usually higher cost and profitable (to the manufacturers).  For these, you have pharma funded programs such as:
    • Messaging attached to your bill at the pharmacy
    • Letters sent to your house by the pharmacy
    • Specialty drugs which are the highest cost and typically profitable (across the supply chain).  For these, companies often take a higher touch approach:
      • Pharmacy techs calling you
      • Nurses calling you

Additionally, there is additional effort made to keep you adherent if:

  • You’re a Medicare Advantage member in one of the categories where adherence is measured for the STAR metrics program
  • You’re have a condition where adherence is a key metric for HEDIS or some other quality program

For those of us that have studied adherence, you know that this is a multi-factorial issue meaning that there are numerous things that impact your adherence.  Some people will respond to nudging.  Some people need to better understand their disease.  Some people need co-pay relief or patient assistance programs.  Some people need a different medication.

But, the two things we don’t need are:

  • Being treated like a disease not a patient
  • Getting 4, 5, 10 different communications from different parties on different schedules

So, what’s the answer.  There isn’t a silver bullet (which is what we’d all like).  I believe the best alternative is to drive adherence through the disease management and case management companies.  These nurses are treating the patient.  They are discussing their multiple co-morbidities with them.  They are talking about and understanding their barriers.  They should be able to help “prescribe” information and tools to help them with their adherence.

Of course, the issue here is engagement.  If we’re only getting 10% of the patients with chronic illnesses to participate in our programs (which is about the national average – I believe), what about the other 90%.  This is where a care coordination program that incorporated the provider and the pharmacy into a technology solution which pushed gaps-in-care and messaging through the EMR and pharmacy system to drive coordinated solutions is the answer.

I don’t know when this will happen, but I don’t believe we’re going to put a dent in adherence until we think differently about this problem.

CVS Caremark Adherence Study – Is Facebook The Solution To Adherence?

A new study funded by CVS Caremark as part of their ongoing research into medication adherence was recently published.

“Association Between Different Types of Social Support and Medication Adherence,” December 2012 issue of American Journal of Managed Care

In this, researchers reviewed 50 peer-reviewed articles about studies which directly measured the relationship between medication adherence and four categories of social support, including:

  • Structural support – marital status, living arrangements and size of the patient’s social network
  • Practical support – helping patients by paying for medications, picking up prescriptions, reading labels, filling pill boxes and providing transportation
  • Emotional support – providing encouragement and reassurance of worth, listening and providing spiritual support
  • Combination support – any combination of the three support structures detailed above

According to the study, greater practical support was more often linked to improved medication adherence, with 67 percent of the studies evaluating practical support finding a significant association between the support and medication adherence.

It drives some interesting questions as you dig into the actual research.  I sent several questions to Troyen A. Brennan, MD, MPH, who is the Executive Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of CVS Caremark, and heads the research initiative that conducted the study.  Here are his responses:

1. How will this research change CVS Caremark’s approach to medication adherence such as your Adherence to Care program? 

CVS Caremark’s Adherence to Care program is all about engaging patients more consistently and directly to ensure they are following their medication regimes. We understand that our patients’ social networks and communication preferences are diverse, and we know that multi-dimensional interventions help to change behaviors. Given these factors, this research can be an important reference point as we develop new approaches to our adherence programs, challenging us to look beyond traditional engagement strategies in an effort to most effectively support patients on their path to better health. We are planning to test some interventions along these lines in 2013.  As a pharmacy innovation company, we want to make sure we are anticipating patient needs and remaining relevant to them especially given the changing face of social communication and networks.  

2.  The data points required to assess these support factors aren’t readily available in the eligibility file or claims file.  Are you collecting that data at the POS or during the enrollment process and using it in any way to determine the correct intervention cadence or level of effort at an individual level?

While this may not be the standard today, it is clear from the research that a patient’s social network and resulting support can be important factors in helping them take their medications as directed. This research can help us and others in the industry think about how best to incorporate new approaches to identify and leverage social networks for greater medication adherence.  For now, we will rely on POS as a way to collect this type of information.

 

  • 3.  To me, it appeared the data was less conclusive than I would like.  There were lots of conflicting data points and qualitative data.  Do you plan to refine this testing within your population to look at differences across disease states and relative to other factors?

 

This study relied on a comprehensive analysis of current literature linking medication adherence to social support networks – so we recognize that there are limitations in being able to draw concrete conclusions on certain factors, such as disease-specific conditions. Regardless, we still believe these findings – which look at clinical, peer-reviewed studies – contribute to the knowledge base in our field. As with all of the research we conduct, we challenge our teams to consider how we might be able to use the information to find practical supports for patients, while at the same time contributing to awareness about the implications of adherence on the broader health care landscape. The best way to understand this research is as hypothesis generating, which we can use in the design of real interventions that we can then test definitively in subsequent studies.

4.        Some of these social factors might be correlated with depression.  Was there any screening done to look at how depression as a co-morbidity might have affected adherence rates?

The methodology of this study relied on literature review and analysis of fifty peer-reviewed research articles which directly measured the relationship between medication adherence and forms of social support. A full review of the medical conditions associated with these studies can be found in Appendix 1. While depression, alone, was not one of the conditions featured in these studies, several did look at mental health conditions and the linkage between adherence and social networks. We did not however stratify by existence of depression—it may be a factor we have to take into account in future studies.

5.   The one thing that I read between the lines was the need for a caregiver strategy.  This has been missing in the industry for years.  Does CVS Caremark have an approach to engaging the caregivers?

 

Our study found that practical support such as picking up prescriptions, reading labels and filling pill boxes – all within the realm of a given caregiver’s role – were the most significant in driving greater adherence. Considering this finding, and acknowledging the role caretakers have in the lives of our patients, there is certainly space for us to develop solutions that engage caretakers more effectively. Recent analyses of “buddy” programs do suggest such interventions do work- -we just need to consider how to scale it.

 

  • 6.        With all this talk about social networks, it naturally leads you to a discussion about Facebook (or Google+).  Neither of them have big focuses in the healthcare space.  In your opinion, will these tools offer an intervention approach for changing behavior around medication or will that be occur at the disease community level in tools like PatientsLikeMe or CureTogether where there’s no social bond but a connectivity around disease? 

 

 The role of social media has changed the way we communicate and connect with one another dramatically over the past decade. What we can say, based on this particular study, is that the more practical the support, the more significant the impact on medication adherence. Perhaps further studies looking into solutions that effectively combine online/social media platforms to complement practical support would help clarify their impact on medication adherence.

If interested, here are some of their other presentations on adherence:

How Farmers Outmarketed Pharma

When you think of potatoes, where do you want them to come from? Idaho

When you think of citrus, where do you want it to come from? Florida

When you think of US wine, where do you want it to come from? Napa Valley

When you think of generic drugs, where do you want them to come from? [company?, geography?]

This vacuum is a big problem in terms of commoditization. People don’t think of Teva or Ranbaxy or some other generic company. The average consumer probably doesn’t know who they are. And, they’ve competed based on price for years. If I was the CEO of Teva, this would be the number one challenge I would pose to my staff which was how do I get consumers to ask for my generic version of the drug. The next question should be what would we do to justify this?

For the first time, I think that they have a similar problem that brand pharma does which is how to create an offering not just a pill. The quote below from the CEO of Novartis, tees it up well.

“I also started to shift our business away from a transactional model that was focused on physically selling the drugs to delivering an outcome-based approach to add value beyond just the pill. I really believe that in the future, companies like Novartis are going to be paid on patient outcomes as opposed to selling the pill.”

And, I think this reflects what Sanofi has been experimenting with in terms of diabetes for several years. They launched their iBG Star Blood Glucose Meter to get into the meter space. Sanofi also has heavily invested in social media to give them direct engagement and feedback from consumers. Both of these begin to create more consumer branding for them as an entity.

I’ve talked about this several times over the years based on a book that one of the E&Y partners wrote when I was there called BLUR which was about blending products and services to create offerings. I think this notion combined with the lessons learned that commodities like potatoes have gone through in branding their products offer some insights into what pharma has to do to shift their positioning in the value chain. This is part of what I’ll be discussing at the upcoming PBMI conference where this shift to outcomes based contracting and focus for the industry is critical to long-term survival and differentiation.

How To Improve Good Cholesterol (HDL) If Drugs Don’t Work

The Wall Street Journal on 1/8/13 had an article called “New Rules for Boosting Good Cholesterol” which shared the results of a recent study on medications that improve HDL (or Good Cholesterol).

“Not all HDL are created the same” was what Roger Newton, chief science officer of Esperion said.

“If you raise HDL in non-pharmacologic ways, it really does help you” says Steve Kopecky, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist.

The points made in the article can be summarized in the following:

  • Improving good cholesterol is important.
  • People with high HDL face fewer heart attacks (according to the Framingham Risk Score)
  • Multiple trials to improve HDL with drugs have failed
  • People may need to raise good cholesterol by behavior change

This should lead to 3 questions:

  1. What should be my HDL or Good Cholesterol? From the Mayo Clinic on Good Cholesterol:

  1. What can I do to improve my Good Cholesterol without drugs? From the WSJ article:

Activity

HDL Increase

Exercise

4 mg/dL

Drink Alcohol (in Moderation)

2-4 mg/dL

Quit Smoking

5 mg/dL

Lose Weight

1 mg/dL per 3-6 lbs

Eat Fish And Olive Oil

3-5 mg/dL

Avoid Carbohydrates

8 mg/dL

  1. What are my risks and the value of medications? For that, I found two online risk tools.

Here’s a simple one that uses the Farmingham study to estimate your risk of having a heart attack.

Here’s another one from over in Europe that’s focused on the value of statins and hosted by the Cleveland Clinic. It takes more inputs but then gives you several outputs. (A nice algorithm to integrate with something like iBlueButton or your care management system perhaps to warn you of risks without having you input a bunch of data.)

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