Staff Burnout, Supply Chain Disruptions, & DIR Fees Continue to Plague the Profession
Between higher demand for health care services and an economy-wide staffing shortage, it is safe to say that today’s pharmacists are overworked and under-resourced. When you add the recent COVID vaccine rollouts and supply chain delays to the day-to-day demands of the job, independent and community pharmacies are feeling the strain.
Pharmacy teams perform a constant juggling act between speed and quality of care while pharmacy owners and managers are left to mitigate mounting pressures and tighter margins. Below, we highlight three of the leading challenges pharmacies are up against this year, and why technology and automation can help ease the burden.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) conducted a study in early 2020 which noted burnout in 75% of participating pharmacists—and this was before the pandemic.
Pharmacist burnout is detrimental on many different levels. Good talent is driven away, open positions are tougher to fill, the quality of patient care goes down, and potential mistakes are made. Mistakes that can cost the pharmacy money, or worse, compromise a patient’s health and safety.
In August of 2021, Bled Marchall Tanoe, PharmD, started a social media campaign around the hashtag, #PizzaIsNotWorking. She called for greater awareness and support around burnout in the profession, claiming that perks like pizza and other occasional rewards are not enough to combat the crisis. Initiatives like the APhA’s Well-Being Index is one way the industry is acknowledging and addressing this very important issue, providing online resources for pharmacists to measure and manage stress, fatigue, depression, and anxiety.
Supply Chain Disruption
The FDA reports that nearly 111 drugs, including heart and cancer medications and antibiotics, are currently on backorder. 60 percent of pharmacists say their pharmacy is experiencing supply chain delays and disruptions—an issue that has been exacerbated by the lingering COVID-19 pandemic and its mutating variants.
A few reasons for this include:
- Unprecedented surge in demand for critical and chronic medications
- Disruption and uncertainty around the production of essential medicines
- Lack of visibility and accuracy around inventory management—needs versus usage
Direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees may have initially been intended to reconcile the negotiated cost of a drug against the price it was sold for (based on rebates, coupons, etc.). Over time though, the rules have muddled into a moving target as Pharmacy Benefit Managers (PBMs) attempt to “clawback” money from the pharmacy long after the point of sale, citing “performance” issues.
However, quality measures related to a pharmacy’s performance are largely unknown, unpredictable, and inconsistent. DIR fees can create losses in revenue that may even surpass what it cost the pharmacy to acquire the drug in the first place. This inevitably causes a trickle-down effect to the consumer who is likely to pay more in out-of-pocket expenses.
We think the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) CEO, B. Douglas Hoey, summed it up best when he said:
"Pharmacists have worked heroically throughout the pandemic so to have insurance middlemen push so many of these small business owners to the edge is troubling. Policymakers in Congress, the Biden administration and in the states should keep this in mind. There are important policy changes they can make to lower drug prices for seniors and protect small businesses, like eliminating pharmacy DIR fees.”
Technology Can Bridge the Gap
While the current issues surrounding today’s pharmacies seem sobering—and they are—there is hope on the horizon. Advancements in automation technology can free pharmacy teams from having to perform routine and redundant tasks—like cycle counting, inventory balancing, and medication dispensing—so they can focus more on patient care and counsel. After all, pharmacists are among the most trusted and accessible health care professionals we have, so prioritizing their time, motivation, and mental health will be key to sustainability.
Inventory is the single largest investment and ongoing expense every pharmacy has. Best practices for inventory management include maintaining accurate on-hand stock positions as well as establishing when and how much to replenish the stock to meet anticipated demand while avoiding overstock or out-of-stock situations. Both of which can negatively impact a pharmacy’s bottom line.
A pharmacy’s inventory management system is paramount to a successful operation, and pharmacy teams are the cornerstone of that system. Pharmacy automation technology like Datarithm®, which integrates directly into the PMS, can complete physical counts of inventory, make manual adjustments, calculate reorder points, and reduce future surpluses that may result from overstocking, expirations, and unexpected loss of demand. All ingredients that can quickly cripple a pharmacy’s cash flow.
With surplus inventory identified, Datarithm® makes daily, automated return to wholesaler recommendations and, for chains, intelligent store-to-store transfer recommendations. This has resulted in an average inventory reduction of 20% for pharmacies we work with, and an average 4.6 point turn improvement.
See the power and ease of Datarithm® in action.
Through robust analytics, intuitive dashboards, and comprehensive inventory reports, Datarithm® delivers all the inventory optics that owners, managers, and pharmacists need to make more informed decisions.