Innovation in the Age of Specialty Medication

By Dustin Roller, VP, Innovation Technology, ASD Healthcare, a part of AmerisourceBergen

Dustin Roller, VP, Innovation Technology, ASD Healthcare, a part of AmerisourceBergen

Across the healthcare continuum, stakeholders continue to face a dizzying array of opportunities and challenges–from the question of what will happen with the Affordable Care Act to outcomes-based measurement and reimbursement. The field is changing rapidly as uncertainties and advances in technology redefine the landscape. One of the biggest trends in the last several years, and is expected to continue throughout 2017 and beyond, has been the rise of specialty medication. These medications usually treat chronic and complex conditions, and often are high-cost. In 2015, specialty drug therapies accounted for approximately half of all FDA approvals, and spending on these products in 2012 was about $87 billion. Experts believe that number could quadruple to $400 billion by 2020.

Specialty medications are in a class of their own, presenting unique challenges to the healthcare community. Addressing their challenges requires thinking outside of standard processes and employing the latest technologies. Ensuring patients can access their specialty therapy in a timely, safe and efficient manner is a top concern for not only manufacturers, but also payers, providers and pharmacists. Because these products are not readily available from many retail pharmacies, patients may have a difficult time finding a location that dispenses their medication. The specific storage requirements characteristic of many specialty products, means patients face additional challenges then keeping the therapies at home with them. With the goal of safeguarding patient access in mind, the healthcare community has developed innovative solutions, specifically leveraging new technology, to address some of these hurdles.

"The industry will need to be nimble and forward-thinking in how it addresses the unique intricacies of care for the patients that take them"

At AmerisourceBergen, one of the many solutions we have developed to help patients access their specialty therapies is Cubixx, a next-generation storage and inventory management solution for both providers and patients. For providers, the RFID-enabled Cubixx refrigerator helps to deliver the highest quality patient care by ensuring product is readily available and accessible while complying with regulatory requirements such as recording and reporting temperatures and ensuring medication pedigrees. On the patient side, Cubixx stores product at a patient’s fingertips, in their own home, and takes the headache out of compliance reporting to keep treatment on track.

This year, based on insights from the providers and patients who use Cubixx, we raised the bar of innovation and found new ways to improve the technology of the unit to meet their evolving needs. Cubixx units are now more energy efficient, experience less temperature variation, provide enhanced RFID inventory tracking and feature replaceable parts for easy maintenance.

One of the first challenges we tackled was to make running the refrigeration unit more cost-effective. Compression-run refrigerators keep volatile specialty medications at a safe temperature, but can cost up to $400 per year in energy expenses. For patients on already pricey specialty treatments, these hidden costs can be an unexpected additional burden. Our team worked with Phononic, whose new EvolveTM refrigeration technology now allows Cubixx refrigeration systems to move heat through a solid-state heat pump and natural refrigerant, which creates a uniformly cold chamber (within one degree of variance within the cavity) for specialty pharmaceutical storage. Typical refrigeration technology uses a vapor-compression system, which requires a fixed energy demand every time the compressor engages, which leads to greater energy use and temperature variance. The solid-state heat pump and natural refrigerant eliminate the need for a compressor within the unit. The EvolveTM technology also uses just 40 watts of power–less than a single lightbulb. By reducing energy costs while still ensuring that medication remains fresh, more patients will be able to properly store their medication in their homes at a lower cost.

An additional challenge for providers and patients was how to properly maintain the technology. We recognized that providing total unit replacements did not make sense for our customers, so we set out to identify industry-leading partners that could help us create a solution. In partnering with SimplyRFID, we developed modular and removable parts that allow for Cubixx refrigerators maintenance on-site and at lower replacement costs. Patients and physicians can have repairs made to specific parts of the unit ad-hoc and in the locations most convenient to them. This provides greater efficiency and ensures that upgrades, modifications and repairs are less disruptive.

As more and more specialty medications with increasing fragility enter the market and are used for additional diseases, the industry will need to be nimble and forward-thinking in how it addresses the unique intricacies of care for the patients that take them. The first step to developing these solutions is to listen to patient and provider needs, which will continue to evolve as the healthcare landscape shifts and changes. All stakeholders, from manufacturers to payers to physicians, will need to collaborate to create the solutions that best address these needs. These challenges should not be looked at as roadblocks, but as incredible opportunities for all of us to look at new and emerging technologies and use them in innovative ways to deliver the highest-quality patient care.

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