When a patient is dealing with a serious illness like cancer, the last thing they want to worry about is where their medications are going to come from or how much the prescriptions will cost. Making the treatment process easier for patients dealing with these types of illnesses is a priority for UHS, which is why the organization opened the UHS Specialty Pharmacy at UHS Binghamton General Hospital.
The UHS Specialty Pharmacy Program provides patients with peace of mind by connecting their clinical care with pharmacy care. With the help of pharmacists and pharmacy liaisons, patients can get their prescriptions filled easily and efficiently—sometimes at a lower cost to them out of pocket—and their questions answered in a timely manner.
Convenient and Reliable
The UHS Specialty Pharmacy is for patients with complex diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C, skin conditions or gastrointestinal illnesses, says Pamela Krolczyk, RPh, pharmacist at UHS Specialty Pharmacy. “In the future, we’re also going to provide medications for addiction treatment.”
UHS started the Specialty Pharmacy so that the hospital could treat the whole patient, from diagnosis to clinical care to treatment. Patients don’t have to order their prescriptions outside of the hospital, which helps with cost savings and medication adherence. In many cases, patients can get their prescriptions filled more quickly than they could through retail pharmacies or specialty pharmacies outside of their community. Having this service close by also reduces stress for patients, as Stephanie Sullivan can attest.
Ms. Sullivan utilizes the Specialty Pharmacy for her mother, Sharon Rea, who takes chemotherapy medication for her triple-negative breast cancer. Ms. Rea was using an offsite mail-order service prior to the Specialty Pharmacy but “started having a lot of issues with that company,” Ms. Sullivan says.
“We never knew when the medication was coming or if it was approved [by insurance], which is a huge burden on someone who is going through cancer,” she recalls. “My mother would get extremely stressed out if her medication wasn’t there on the day she was supposed to start chemotherapy. She would worry, ‘Is this going to affect my treatment? Will my cancer come back?’”
Now, Ms. Sullivan can stop into the Specialty Pharmacy each month, pick up her mother’s prescription and bring it to her before she needs to take her next dose. “It’s routine,” she says. “My mother likes things to be a certain way, so I bring her the medication on Tuesdays, and she’s ready to take it on Fridays.”
Ms. Sullivan manages her husband’s chiropractic office in Endicott, New York, so it’s convenient for her to go to the Specialty Pharmacy in Binghamton after work. “It’s always a smooth process,” she says. “They deal with insurance, they tell me exactly what my mother’s copays are, and I don’t even have to call it in—they call me when the prescription is ready. At this point, they know who I am right when I walk through the door.”
The Specialty Pharmacy at UHS provides great service in part because of its pharmacy liaisons. These staff members are the go-between for doctors, patients and other pharmacy staff, says Pamela Krolczyk, RPh, pharmacist at the UHS Specialty Pharmacy. As soon as UHS doctors order medications for their patients, the pharmacy liaisons get to work.
“They make sure we can get the medications for patients, as well as look for means to defray the cost of copays to lower the out-of-pocket cost for patients,” Ms. Krolczyk says. This is important, because medications for patients with complicated disease states can be expensive, she adds.
Once patients are onboarded and under the UHS Specialty Pharmacy’s services, the liaisons call them to go over everything patients need to know about their treatments, including dosage information and delivery dates, as well as to make sure they adhere to their medications by asking if they have any problems or questions. The liaisons then relay need-to-know information from patients to the pharmacists or clinical staff.
Quality Service—Even at Home
For patients who can’t physically go to the Specialty Pharmacy to pick up their prescriptions, there is the option to have them safely mailed to their homes.
“We ship medications to homes, either by courier or UPS,” Ms. Krolczyk says. “We have medications that require strict adherence to temperature guidelines, so we use special packaging materials and ship overnight for a lot of them.”
The Specialty Pharmacy has dual accreditation from both the Utilization Review Accreditation Commission and Accreditation Commission for Health Care, which are organizations that specifically audit specialty pharmacy programs to ensure best practices are being met.
“To have accreditation from both of these organizations is a big stamp of approval,” Ms. Krolczyk says. “It means we meet high standards” when it comes to processes, including cold-packing and shipping, as well as patient outcomes.
Mary Ann Marinelli has been using the home-delivery service for about three months. The 74-year-old Norwich, N.Y., resident used to get infusions at UHS to treat her cancer but switched to a chemotherapy medication when the infusions were no longer viable. Ms. Marinelli says not only is the home-delivery service convenient, but the availability of the pharmacists and pharmacy liaisons to answer her questions is comforting.
“I like that they’re available—when you call or leave a message, they’re quick to get back to you,” she says. “I was having a few problems with my prescription, so I called, and the person I spoke to gave me some advice on what to do … it solved my problem, and I was very grateful.”
Even though Ms. Marinelli doesn’t visit the UHS Specialty Pharmacy in person, she considers the service a big part of her support system.
“When you’re facing something like this, it’s always good to know that there are people you can reach out to who will help you,” she says. “I have family, but nobody really understands [what I go through]. This has been going on for about two years now, and I’m not the same person I was before. These people seem to know how to help and answer my questions.
“Support is everything,” she adds. “You can take pills forever, but it’s the voice on the other end of the phone that really makes a difference.”
HERE TO HELP
The UHS Specialty Pharmacy is located on the first floor of the Krembs building at UHS Binghamton General Hospital. It is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Contact the pharmacy at 607-352-5948, or visit nyuhs.org for more information.