VA’s Mail-Order Pharmacy Ranked Top in Nation – Again

by U.S. Medicine

April 2, 2014
Highest Customer Satisfaction for Fourth Year in A Row By Annette M. Boyle
Kenneth Siehr, RPh

Kenneth Siehr, RPh

MILWAUKEE — For the fourth year in a row, the VA’s Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy (CMOP) received the highest customer satisfaction score among the nation’s public and private mail-order pharmacies, according to the latest J.D. Power and Associates survey. Customers rated the mail-order pharmacies on their cost-competitiveness, delivery, ordering and service. Out of 1,000 possible points, veterans gave CMOP 871. The next highest score, 868, went to Kaiser Permanente’s mail-order pharmacy. CMOP also outscored nearly all of the 24 brick-and-mortar pharmacies in the surveys. About 80% of all prescriptions within the VA are mailed to veterans by CMOP. The seven facilities in the mail-order system processed 117 million prescriptions last year and are on track to send out about 121 million this year, according to Kenneth Siehr, RPh, national director for CMOP.
The VA’s Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy is a highly automated system, much like a sophisticated manufacturing environment.

The VA’s Consolidated Mail Outpatient Pharmacy is a highly automated system, much like a sophisticated manufacturing environment.

“If you break that down, we have 450,000 prescriptions being mailed in 300,000 packages each workday,” added Siehr, who works at the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center in Milwaukee. “The fact that we are rated higher than our private sector counterparts is due in part to our unique partnership with our patients and medical centers,” said Robert A Petzel, MD, VA Under Secretary for Health. Other mail-order pharmacies require that a patient get a prescription from their physician, then send that prescription themselves to the mail-order pharmacy, which has its own proprietary system. As a result, “the patient experiences more fractured care, a pharmacy outside of their retail pharmacy and another place to reconcile for their care. At the VA, we haven’t created that separation. Veterans go to the local VA to receive care, the provider enters the prescription into the computerized patient record system (CPRS) and the script goes electronically to the medical center where a pharmacist reviews it against the patient’s other medications and lab tests. If it’s OK, it’s transmitted that evening to CMOP. We do the fulfillment, and the prescription is out the door in less than 48 hours,” Siehr explained. Consequently, veterans might barely know CMOP exists. If they have questions, the local pharmacist answers them and all their prescription records are available locally at their medical center. If they have medications such as antibiotics that need to be filled immediately, they can pick them up at the pharmacy without waiting behind everyone who has standard refills for chronic conditions. A highly automated system, much like a sophisticated manufacturing environment, keeps all those prescriptions and packages coming. “If you walk into one of the CMOP facilities, you’ll see conveyor belts and totes and computerized systems. We can fill huge numbers of prescriptions efficiently with a very, very high degree of accuracy,” Siehr said. As the system steadily has refined, it has enabled the VA to handle an increasing number of prescriptions and fill fewer prescriptions at local medical centers. By offering veterans both the in-person local pharmacy contact and the efficiency of the mail-order system, CMOP is positioned to continue to lead in customer satisfaction. “For mail-order pharmacies, it’s important to combine high-tech with high-touch. Not only does the online experience need to keep technological pace with other retail sites that pharmacy customers visit, but customer service opportunities that provide personal connections are essential as well,” said Scott Hawkins, director of the healthcare practice at marketing firm J.D. Power. Offloading the manual aspects of the workload to CMOP benefits pharmacists and technicians at the local medical centers as well as patients, Siehr told U.S. Medicine. The local pharmacy staff “doesn’t have to put all those pills in bottles, which frees them to focus their cognitive functions on ensuring that everything is OK, providing patient education and improving patient safety. They get to do what they’re best at.” Siehr said he also continues to do what he does best: making CMOP run more smoothly and communicate better with veterans. Siehr submitted a proposal for the 2013 Securing Americans Value Efficiency (SAVE) Award that suggested adding functionality to MyHealtheVet to enable veterans to track delivery of their prescriptions online. As a winner, the idea recently garnered Siehr recognition by the White House and a meeting with President Barack Obama this past December. “My idea was to give veterans the ability to track prescription delivery like you can track packages on Amazon from order to your home,” Siehr said. Currently, patients can order refills online but not see where they are in the fulfillment and delivery process. Instead, a veteran must call the local VA medical center and ask someone in the pharmacy to look up the order and provide the information needed so the veteran can track it through the carrier delivering the prescription. The money awarded through the president’s SAVE initiative is funding changes in MyHealtheVet to enable self-service. “Right now, I’m involved with MyHealtheVet management and programming staff to develop the business case and programming,” Siehr said. The new system will free up time spent by pharmacy staff looking up package information and reduce wait times and frustration for veterans. The first part of the program will be released in June and will give veterans the ability to go online to see where their prescription is and when they should expect to receive it. In the next stage, the system will email veterans a tracking number to make the process even easier.

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