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Survey Highlights Opportunities to Leverage Technology to Improve Time-Consuming Administrative Process, Especially While Many Physicians Are Offline or Remote Due to COVID-19

A new Surescripts survey found that half of specialty pharmacists say the average specialty prescription takes at least four days to fill and wait times of seven to 10 days aren’t uncommon. The survey of more than 400 specialty pharmacists also found that nearly two-thirds of specialty pharmacists report spending more than 15 minutes on the phone to fill one prescription, and 79% of specialty pharmacists seek additional information from clinicians at least three times in an average day.

“Specialty pharmacists are critical members of care teams, working to educate patients and help them get started with treatment,” said Cecelia Byers, PharmD, Specialty Pharmacy Clinical Product Manager at Surescripts. “Because many prescriber offices are closed or have reduced staff due to COVID-19, specialty pharmacists are working on the frontlines to process prior authorizations, dispense and deliver medications, manage drug shortages, and support patients remotely. Now more than ever, pharmacists need quick and easy electronic access to information to ensure patient therapy is not interrupted.”

Specialty medications that treat serious and chronic conditions like cancer, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis have complex documentation requirements. When combined with a manual prior authorization process, the result is an overwhelming amount of administrative work that gets in the way of pharmacists spending enough time with patients. In fact, 40% of specialty pharmacists say the process is so burdensome that they feel more like an admin than a pharmacist.

Given the complex nature of specialty medications, this often leads to a seemingly endless cycle of phone calls and faxes with prescribers to obtain necessary information. In fact, 39% of specialty pharmacists say they seek additional information from their clinician counterparts five times or more each day.

The administrative burden of specialty medications is resulting in increased burnout among care providers, including pharmacists. The Surescripts survey found that 71% of specialty pharmacists are somewhat, very or extremely stressed at work, and 63% identified prior authorization as a source of stress. According to a study in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy, more than half of health-system pharmacists have a high degree of burnout. 

“This survey brings to light the barriers specialty pharmacists face and demonstrates the need for technology to enable better information sharing between prescribers and specialty pharmacists,” said Andrew Mellin, MD, MBA, Vice President and Chief Medical Information Officer of Surescripts. “Specialty pharmacists need ready access to patient clinical information, so they can help patients get on therapy quickly and spend more time on patient care, not administrative tasks.”

Most specialty pharmacists agree that an automated system would help. The survey found that 86% of specialty pharmacists say getting more complete information from clinicians would improve patient care, and 56% think streamlined communication—specifically, secure messaging within their workflow—would improve the fulfillment process.

Surescripts partnered with Survata to administer the 33-question online survey to 414 active specialty pharmacists. Their responses were collected February 19–25, 2020.

Download Pharmacist Perspectives on the Specialty Fulfillment Process to learn more.

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