Every specialty pharmacy, especially those working with patient groups living with rare and orphan diseases, knows the integral role played by the caregiver. From finding and receiving care from the right physician, communicating with a care team, implementing therapies and solving the unexpected, the responsibility of caregivers should not be underestimated.

When recognizing all that the caregiver has to take on, every specialty pharmacy should be asking: how can I help the daily lives of my patients and, therefore, their caregivers? One place to start is at the root of the drug development strategy.

The answer is to make it patient-first.

“A patient-first strategy is very self-descriptive,” said Brandon Salke, pharmacist-in-charge, Optime Care. “It means exactly what it says. It is a philosophy whose components are simple but powerful. As you make decisions as an organization and that means all your decisions you ask the question: ‘How will this impact the patient’s overall health and well-being? Is the decision I am making easing the burden of their illness for them and their caregivers by supporting access to care, medications, patient advocacy organizations and financial support programs?’”

Patient-first drug strategies also require that, before the strategy itself is considered, the specialty pharmacy’s culture is framed to do so.

“It is a culture where all the employees need to be bought in and invested in putting patients first,” Optime Care cofounder and managing partner Michelle Hefley said. “The team must understand that what they do matters and will affect the patient. Thus, they want to do whatever they can to help the patient or caregivers in some way.”

The philosophy and components of a patient-first strategy for a specialty pharmacy touch patients and their caregivers in many ways. Patient-first strategies mean live people answering phone. Patient-first means no telephone trees with endless loops. It means access to pharmacists, who take the time needed to discuss medications and side effects. It means outreach on a routine basis by care coordinators. It means no robo-calls. It means patients and their families are checked on regarding medications.

Patient-first strategies also mean easing the pressure on patients and caregivers and doing the extensive research into the coverage of insurance plans, because that lies with the pharmacy. Then the detailed discussions regarding coverages, financial obligations and support options available are brought to the patients, so there are no unwanted surprises.

“By providing a positive and seamless experience around their specialty medications and support, patients and caregivers have less burdens and more positive outcomes,” said Hefley. “For example, frequent, live follow-ups tend to result in better adherence for patients, which means better health outcomes.”

While patient-first implementation by a pharmacy takes a commitment, and let’s face it; sometimes more work, to making decisions that really do put the patient and their family first, it always means more success for the patient, the caregiver and, therefore, the drug therapy and pharmacy.

“We must choose this instead of option that is perhaps, driven by what is most efficient, cost effective and easy to implement,” said Salke. “Moving away from some of the opportunities that technology offers when it does not provide the support and human interaction and understanding that is so nee, is the harder but best choice for the patient. And, of course, we must continually ask how this decision will impact the patient and their caregiver.”

Specialty pharmacies also often can be a bridge from patient and caregiver to patient advocacy groups and disease-specific nonprofits.

“Patient advocacy or informational groups are key in specialty pharmacy, where patient populations or lower,” said Hefley. “These support systems lead to positive impacts on the patients or caregivers, whether it is information, understanding or support and even friendships.”

As we, at Optime Care, continue are push for patient-first philosophies, we challenge all specialty pharmacies to get involved with support groups for the diseases and medications they dispense. Build trust in the communities and work to understand more from the patient side. Then, share and apply what you learn to help other patients and their caregivers who are facing the same challenges.

Doing everything you can for the patient by taking the time and resources to make connections with support and advocacy groups is patient-first.

When patients are first, caregivers are first.

When therapies are successful, patients are saved, and goals are achieved.