Evolving with our customers: Putting patients first through specialty distribution
By Lisa Harrison
What matters to you, matters to us.
The philosophy leading AmerisourceBergen’s specialty physician services focuses putting practices—and their patients—first. Specialty distribution looks a bit different than it did years ago, and the same is likely true with physician practices. The industry is ever-changing: from shifts in patients’ needs and expectations, to adaptations in policy and regulations and advances in technology. The entire healthcare industry of yesterday has had to evolve to be successful today, and to prepare for tomorrow.
While specialty distribution services may have once been viewed as simply a transactional provider (picking, packing, and shipping), the truth behind specialty distribution today is more complex—and involves a lot more care.
We recently sat down with Lisa Harrison, President of Specialty Practice Distribution, to talk about what really matters to physician practices and what makes specialty distribution unique. What we found was common purpose: putting patients first and moving health forward, together.
You’ve been asking community practices what matters to them. What have you been learning?
Lisa Harrison: I think listening to our community practice partners is one of the most important things we can do. I’ve spoken to some of my lifelong friends in community practices, and I’ve been so moved to hear about the depth of their commitment to their patients, and to providing equitable community-based care.
When it comes right down to it, having a trusted, consistent distribution partner really matters to our providers. Practices across our specialty distribution network count on us to receive timely shipments without interruption, regardless of weather events or other potential disruptors. We know how important this is, which is why we’ve invested in a new west coast distribution center in Montclair, California, to strengthen business continuity and emergency preparedness for our customers.
So, the core of what we do has to meet our provider’s needs—but digging deeper, the same needs kept emerging no matter the size or location of the practice: solidarity, partnership, trust, reliability, value, innovation, and relationships.
We keep hearing that having a trusted relationship, and knowing who you’re working with, matters. We have so many customers who’ve been with us for more than 10 years, knowing that we will be their partner every step of the way. It’s not just a transactional relationship.
You call out partnership, trust and reliability have emerged as key factors for your specialty physician practices. Can you tell us a bit about how you deliver on these?
Lisa Harrison: The first thing that comes to my mind is the tenure and the experience of the team, and how that translates with our customers. I think that’s really important. We look at that relationship, that partnership, as a foundation. Because we have that tenured team, that experience allows them to interact with our customers in a more meaningful way, with a depth of understanding regarding the challenges their practices face. That sense of partnership, trust, and reliability then allows us to evolve WITH our customers.
I feel like in a transactional relationship, you don’t get to that level. You don’t get to sit and have the conversation about, “What are the things that keep you up at night?” “Where’s your practice headed in the next one to five years?” “What are the opportunities, and where are the derailers?” Our teams get to experience the ups and downs alongside our customers and collaborate with providers to craft solutions that meet their needs.
We also provide extensive access to a broad catalog of products, from infusion therapies to oral and IV medications. It’s important for specialty distribution to stay on the cutting edge of new therapies, like cell and gene, so we’re always expanding our product lines and the infrastructure to support them to outpace what patients need.
That’s one of the reasons investing in a new west coast distribution center has been so important to us. By strengthening our business continuity, we can better ensure that providers can continue to trust in their partnership with our team. Investing in our specialty distribution network matters on a large scale, but it also matters to the patient on the west coast who doesn’t have to pause their treatment due to a tornado or hurricane that hit in the east.
Your practices have said that solidarity mattered. Why is it top of mind? How do you approach solidarity as a specialty distributor?
Lisa Harrison: Community practices play a critical role in providing consistent access to high-quality care and it’s our job to support them, and not just through the reliable disbursement of specialty medications. We feel a strong sense of solidarity with our providers to protect patient access to care in their preferred community setting. The practices face so many challenges and threats from policy, payer mandates, the PBM models and larger systems—their independence to treat their patients is nearly always under attack, whether its source is intentional or an unintended consequence.
The COVID-19 pandemic put a spotlight on the integral role distributors play in the process of providing consistent access to care across the supply chain. We absolutely stood in solidarity with them as we supported practices through the COVID-19 shutdown and reopening. Major policy efforts by our entire government and business teams include advocating for the PPP program that helped protect their businesses and staff, running educational webinars, and getting our own distribution centers to stay open and get the critical treatments to the patients who desperately needed them.
Our investment in technologies to ensure prompt delivery and product integrity helped protect and secure inventory through the pandemic, and still matters on a daily basis to tens of thousands of practices across the country. They need our services and solutions to continue to help manage inventory to match fluctuating supply and demand and assist in managing spend.
The needs of practices and their patients only increased during the pandemic, because managing long-term and life-threatening diseases didn’t take a pause. Patients turned to their community providers in a big way: for comfort, for guidance, for convenience and trusted access to care. It’s our responsibility to uphold that continuity of care through our supply chain and even more so, to uphold that trust. I think I’ll look back on that time as one of my proudest career moments, something that really mattered.
Value can come in many forms, and while it's obvious why value matters to practices, how do you ensure you are providing continuous value?
Lisa Harrison: Obviously, cost is always a factor. But that’s not the full picture of value. Careful and accurate planning goes into bringing new products to market and broadening the clinician’s choice in therapy based on the patient need. But as more generics and biosimilars come to market, our physicians need to be able to focus on prescribing the treatment based on clinical need without needing to get a second PhD in finance to understand the dynamics of pricing and contracts in each therapeutic class. The value the distribution and GPO partnership can provide is a clearer picture of the financials behind treatments, and most importantly access to the best pricing and contracts.
Putting patients first is a core tenant of AmerisourceBergen’s values, and it’s also where we find alignment with our providers. A specialty distributor like us must maintain the right infrastructure to make sure practices get the inventory they need, based on who is coming in the door at any moment in time, in an efficient and timely manner. Coupled with access to Specialty GPO contracts and the right support to maximize their value, this is what makes a holistic partnership valuable. We’re hearing practices need the connected systems that streamline ordering and payment operations, provide actionable intel, and help manage their inventory and contract pricing to provide a single optimized experience.
Your practices have said that innovation plays a big role in who they partner with. How have your offerings and technologies evolved, and where do you see them going?
Lisa Harrison: That’s a good question. Innovation is everywhere, not just in technology. Over the years, our specialty distribution businesses have expanded and transformed, just like the specialty practices and the advances in therapies. With access to the entire AmerisourceBergen network, we are able to make significant investments in solutions to improve product access, increase supply chain efficiency, and work diligently to support practices in enhancing patient care.
As practices’ needs have evolved over time with new therapies and more complex treatment combinations, the scope of our services and solutions proactively expanded to support those needs while providing new ways to maintain high standards in patient care. For example, we’ve partnered with Prime Therapeutics to offer its IntergratedRx™ - Oncology to qualified Medically Integrated Dispensing (MID) practices. The IntegratedRx program enables its clinically integrated network of providers to dispense oral oncology and companion medications directly to their patients without the use of a central fill pharmacy. This empowers in-network pharmacies to holistically manage their patients in a coordinated way, improve therapy management, and streamline the treatment pathway.
Looking to the future, we have a bold view of innovations based on what we see coming regarding new therapies and how to best enable the connections necessary for a seamless digital experience for end-to-end patient management. The needs of tomorrow’s practice will look different yet again, so we’re taking a customer-centered “art of possible” approach, leveraging our unique knowledge about each specialty as well as our experience with the innerworkings of the practice as a business to offer a thoughtful support model. It’s our goal to find innovative ways to help alleviate the burden on specialty practices (and their in-office dispensing pharmacies) so they can trust they’re getting the therapy inventory they need to perfectly balance their patient flow and financial risk. They know we have their back in this so they can focus on providing the highest quality care to their communities.
Your practices have said that relationships are a main reason they stay. What do you attribute this to?
Lisa Harrison: Our providers are not shy in telling us that our people are the reason they stay with us, time and time again. We understand the complexities and nuances of their businesses, because our people have come from managing practices themselves, whether as a pharmacist like me, or by working with practices for so long, the knowledge is a part of who they are. This allows us a greater degree of empathy for their day-to-day needs.
Our specialty distribution businesses (Besse Medical and Oncology Supply) are proud to have partnered with community practices across the nation for decades, working side-by-side with physicians and their practice staff. We foster deep relationships throughout the practice, from leadership to clinical staff to the front and back offices. The knowledge gained through those relationships informs our decision making, our operations, and the solutions we provide because it’s our goal to empower practices.
What matters most to you?
Lisa Harrison: What matters most to me is to be a partner our practices can trust. It matters to me that our whole team understands the nuances and complexities of practice businesses, and that we continually strive to expand our knowledge. Most of all, it’s important to me that providers can know that we join them in their efforts to support patients at every step of their journey. If anything, we want to help ease the process of getting specialty medications so that their providers can focus on excellent care, and patients can put all their energy into healing—without worry.
We want our specialty practice partners to know we’re with them on the journey to a healthier future, and we hope that practices who partner with us—no matter the size of their practice—take comfort in knowing that what matters to you, matters to us.
To learn more about our commitment to meeting the needs of community physician practices, visit: https://amerisourcebergen.com/provider-solutions/what-matters-to-you-matters-to-us