Fueled, in part, by the COVID-19 pandemic, many local pharmacies have become front-line providers of diagnostic testing and other health services. XIFIN’s Executive Chair and CEO Lâle White sees this as a cultural shift that will last long after the pandemic is behind us.
By CHRIS WOLSKI
In many parts of the world, local pharmacies are more than places to pick up medicines. They act more like community healthcare hubs, dispensing prescriptions, health advice, and diagnostic tests.
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many local pharmacies in the U.S. shifted to this model as they performed COVID testing and provided vaccinations.
XIFIN sees this transformation of the local pharmacy as the first link in the healthcare continuum as a permanent cultural shift that will last long after the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a wide-ranging Q&A with CLP, XIFIN’s Executive Chair and CEO Lâle White discusses the cultural shift to local pharmacies, what it means for XIFIN, and for the diagnostic laboratory industry as a whole.
White’s questions have been edited for length and clarity.
CLP: Among the many cultural changes we’ve already experienced thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, is how local pharmacies have become front-and-center in providing COVID testing and other services more commonly reserved for a physician’s office or testing site. Why has this shift occurred, and can we expect it to continue post-pandemic?
Lâle White: Exacerbated by social distancing, mask policies and other societal changes implemented in response to the pandemic, there has been a shift in the demand for receiving care. The pandemic and the social restrictions that were put in place accelerated patient demand for more convenient access to care, from telehealth to retail settings. As a result, diagnostic labs and retail pharmacies have been front-and-center of COVID-19 testing and vaccination efforts.
With 95% of Americans living within five miles of a retail pharmacy location, this shift is a natural evolution as people regularly visit these locations for weekly errands, and retail pharmacies have been expanding their services to make primary care more accessible. The recent news around the unveiling of the Biden administration’s Test-to-Treat program emphasizes the importance of allowing pharmacists to care for patients. Two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that time to treatment is essential and pharmacists can provide an efficient access point.
Pharmacies are now offering services that touch different areas of care within the healthcare spectrum including testing and basic-level health services. For non-urgent medical treatment people are becoming more accustomed to visiting their local pharmacy for prescriptions, treatments, and care, including testing and routine clinical services. I suspect that this behavior will continue well after the pandemic is behind us.
CLP: What are some of the implications of this cultural shift related to diagnostic testing for patients, physicians, and diagnostic labs?
White: As testing needs continue to diversify and menus expand, diagnostic laboratories have a unique opportunity to nurture their existing relationships with retail pharmacies. They can help arm pharmacies with insights and knowledge as they also look to expand their clinical service offerings and testing menus. Ultimately, the more information that can be shared between the pharmacy and the lab, the more information that a pharmacist has about a patient, and can provide better, more informed care.
For example, lab tests have advanced greatly when it comes to genetic testing, so much so that almost 75 new genetic tests are introduced daily. As lab tests are constantly emerging and changing, having a close patient-physician-pharmacist relationship allows for an improved and personalized diagnostic process. The collaboration between the lab, the pharmacist, and the primary care provider significantly increases the quality of care for the patient.
CLP: XIFIN recently purchased OmniSYS. How does this acquisition affect your business and help testing in pharmacies?
White: With our recent acquisition of OmniSYS, we’re in a strong position in the growing U.S. retail pharmacy market. This complements the increased demand for convenient, accessible care, and provides a viable avenue for retail pharmacies to expand their offerings by moving towards a clinical services business model. It essentially provides a new “front door” for care.
In addition, a fairly recent change in legislation has given pharmacists expanded capabilities as providers of clinical services in community settings. On top of traditional immunization and prescription review offerings, retail pharmacies are places for testing, screenings, and counseling. Pharmacists can also be the ones to prescribe needed medication, such as birth control. These expanded services have successfully created a new environment for care and there is now a need for retail pharmacies and labs to work together with data communications and systems in synch.
CLP: You just mentioned data communications. How important is good data in this transformation?
White: Good data is crucial in this transformation. Access to data is vital to the continuum of care for an individual and a trusted vendor is key to providing the necessary IT systems and insights for all the players. For pharmacists, having accessible, valuable data assists in daily disease management and knowing which types of medications or treatment a patient may need. It’s also critical to provide actionable analysis using biomarker-level clinical data that labs can’t typically get from their own EHRs.
Data sharing is also making a difference in how labs analyze data and how they use it to improve care and communicate with payers. This data sharing process—one we’ve developed for labs—is designed to facilitate bi-directional information sharing between separate entities and preserve data integrity. High-quality data is also required to file successful appeals and having an innovative clinical data aggregation system ensures the ability to consolidate all types of clinical data for analysis purposes, which can be used for claims processing.
CLP: Will one of the long-term benefits of the shift to testing in local pharmacies mean more diagnostic testing and better overall treatment? Will the modern American pharmacy be more analogous to its European counterparts—where more basic services are offered?
White: The long-term benefits of this ongoing shift to expand testing in local pharmacies will most definitely include an increase in support for more diagnostic testing. This model awards consumers with convenience, affordability, and hopefully provides timely answers to questions or concerns they may have about their own health. Alternatively, it will give providers the ability to manage these services with improved efficiencies and the potential to provide higher quality of care.
Many Europeans already get a lot of their primary care at pharmacies and those pharmacists are much more involved with their patients. As we’ve discussed, the pharmacist is currently a well-recognized provider in most U.S. states. The pandemic and the need for convenient access to testing and vaccines has also been a driving force behind this shift and we’ve seen the success of pharmacy retail chains developing their own urgent care centers and full-service clinics. With more patients seeking care and services at the local level, it’s important we’re creating a lasting relationship between the retail pharmacy and the lab. More importantly, as pharmacies begin to perform more point-of-care testing and vaccinations, we want to ensure that results are fast and reliable through trustworthy partnerships.
CLP: How will the shift to local pharmacies help clinical labs? Will this mean more volume, and, hence, more cash flow? Do you think patients will be more likely to request tests on a more regular basis because it’s easier and because they may have more of a personal relationship with their pharmacist?
White: Historically, labs have been slow to adapt to industry changes. With this new avenue available in retail pharmacy environments, there is an ability to bring labs closer to the consumer and keep up with their demands and needs. We expect to see an increased testing volume with individuals more inclined to seek out healthcare options. We also expect to see an increasing desire to understand how their health impacts their daily lives and what can be done in terms of preventative care to improve their overall well-being.
As I mentioned earlier, we anticipate an increase in testing at retail pharmacies because it’s a more convenient location and eliminates the need to make an appointment at a health center. By having labs and retail pharmacies work together and integrate their systems, I believe that consumers will ultimately have a more transparent view into their care.
Chris Wolski is chief editor of CLP.