It is fascinating how life comes full circle. I remember when I worked on the Sprint Data Warehousing project back in the 90’s. At the time, it was the first 1 terrabyte warehouse being built, and we were using some very cool technology from Microstrategy which offered the first web-based DSS (decision support system). One of the key components of the reporting solution and business driver model we created was churn (or retention). You can look at it either way.
But, this is a classic example of focusing on the right metric and that you have to measure what matters (to throw out a few oldies but goodies). Retention is a pretty new concept within the pharmacy world especially within mail order pharmacy. Growth has been pretty constant for the past decade until the past 18 months. Now, everyone is trying to figure out what’s happening and why.
- Are people going to Wal-Mart and paying cash? (Or other similar card programs at Walgreen’s and CVS?)
- Are people simply filling less prescriptions?
- Are people skipping doses and doing other things to stretch out their prescriptions?
- Are people trying over-the-counter medications or using samples?
There are lots of questions that matter here. And, you have to think through the mail order process. How do patients experience it? Why do they leave? There’s lot of research that’s been done by the different PBMs here.
I had a chance to talk with Drug Benefit News about this the other day. You can read the story here. Here’s a piece of what we discussed:
Depending on the payer, mail-order customer retention rates vary from 75% to 95%, according to Van Antwerp. “Very few people left because of service issues,” he explains. “The majority left because of refill issues. They got to the point where they forgot to refill an important medication and couldn’t get it within a 24-hour time period…or it was up for renewal and they needed to get the next prescription written.”
To address that, some PBMs are working to develop better refill-reminder programs, including moving some customers to auto-refill, Van Antwerp says. “When you look at refill patterns, some people chronically refill too early so they hit that ‘refill too soon’ reject ,” he explains. “Others chronically refill too late.”
“Secondarily, we look at the channel that they’re using to fill,” he adds. “Some people still mail in their refill via ‘snail mail.’ Others use IVR [i.e., an interactive voice-response system].” His firm is working with some PBMs to help them understand each enrollee’s historical behavior, and then customize a response that helps improve mail-order retention while moving the member to the lowest-cost channel for ordering refills — either IVR or the member portal, Van Antwerp says.