COVID-19 redefined healthcare last year, as hospitals quickly adapted to care for critically ill patients, meet high demand for ICU beds and deal with workforce shortages. Although better days are on the horizon with the availability of the first COVID-19 vaccines, the public health crisis isn’t over yet.
We recently sat down with Mark Brown, CompleteRx senior vice president of business development, to talk about hospital pharmacy trends he expects to see in 2021. While some trends will certainly continue, such as increased biosimilar uptake, rising drug costs, and evolving 340B program changes, Brown predicts that hospitals will be laser-focused on getting back on solid financial ground following the pandemic.
“With the financial impact COVID-19 has had on hospitals, I believe we’re going to see pharmacy leaders focused on core pharmacy operations. That means ensuring efficient operations in purchasing, inventory, staffing and other key areas that can drive down costs and improve margins,” says Brown.
- Recovering patient volumes and revenue
Person protective equipment costs, canceled surgeries, workforce support and other expenses have cost hospitals billions of dollars during the pandemic. Resuming clinical services, especially those surgeries and procedures that drive revenue, will be top of mind for hospital leaders. Instilling patient confidence in returning to hospitals and outpatient clinics for services will be equally important to financial recovery and revenue generation in 2021.
- Efficient drug purchasing and inventory control
Supply chain costs represent the second largest expense for hospitals. Leaders will look for areas where they can drive down costs and improve efficiency, with pharmacy being one of the largest targets. Hospitals will need to look at maximizing contract purchasing, lowering drug acquisition costs and improving inventory control. Brown recommends working with your group purchasing organization to determine the right product supply levels for your organization.
- Continued automation and technology adoption
The industry will continue to embrace automation, robots and software to streamline the pharmacy workflow and reduce the risk of medication errors. These changes are allowing pharmacists to focus on higher-value activities, such as evaluating therapy, adjusting medications and counseling patients on medication use. Brown says that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to automation and cautions against bringing in more automation than your organization warrants. Determining whether automation technology is cost-effective requires some financial modeling and finding the right system for your pharmacy department.
- A focus on disaster preparedness
The pandemic highlighted the importance of having a disaster plan and updating it regularly. The plan should outline how to handle drug shortages and preserve drugs in short supply. Your disaster plan should also include a staffing component, including essential pharmacy staff needed to perform critical functions, handling staff absences and addressing staffing shortages. While the worse of the pandemic may be over in a few months, keeping those emergency plans updated is essential to ensuring you’re ready for the next unexpected event.