The specialty pharmacy industry is growing by leaps and bounds. In 1997, specialty drugs made up only 11% of the pharmaceutical sector. By 2017, that number had grown to 43%. In 1993, consumer expenditure on specialty medications made up 3% of the drug market. In 2017, it had increased to 9.6%.
Newly developed technology and applications to help patients and clinicians use those technologies are helping the industry grow. In particular, technologies are being developed that improve patient experience and make their lives less complicated. Here are a few recent advances in technology that have contributed to the growth of the specialty pharmacy industry.
New software is improving access to patient health data
After decades of investment, the transition to fully digitized health records for patients is almost complete, and for good reason: why shove papers and documents into a file cabinet and spend hours sorting through them to find a particular record, when you could upload the same information to your computer and have it all in one place?
But even storing health information digitally has its caveats. Mainly because doctors, pharmacists, and other healthcare providers are often unable to share information between the various members of a patient’s care delivery team due to differences between platforms and the fact that most people store information locally rather than in the cloud. That’s why new software is being developed to combat this. Health information exchange (HIE) applications are a type of software that allows for easy cross-platform sharing of health data, and these programs are becoming increasingly popularized in the often complex specialty pharmacy supply chain and industry.
New ways to analyze health data and generate therapy options
Doctors faced with a never-ending stream of patient health records may find it near impossible to keep up with the rapid pace of new drug approvals and treatment changes in specialty pharmacy. In addition to the challenge of poring over endless patient data, there are hundreds of thousands of medications available to prescribe, and dozens of new ones are launched every year. Choosing the right medication and the right treatment path can be overwhelming. Today, there are a few types of software that aim to simplify this process. Many healthcare professionals use programs that analyze health data and generate a suggestion for the most appropriate treatment based on the patient’s health history. This software comes in particularly handy when a doctor needs to develop a treatment plan for a patient who relies on specialty medication because they often have a complex health history.
Apps and devices to improve patient adherence
Patient adherence is a huge problem in the healthcare industry. Over 120,000 Americans die every year from not taking their medication as prescribed. It is thought that medication non-adherence costs the U.S. healthcare system an estimated $100-289 billion each year. To improve patient adherence, specialty pharmacies have released mobile apps, along with “smart” drug packaging.
Mobile apps can be set up to remind patients when to take their medication, and “smart” drug packaging uses technology for the same purpose: when a patient takes their dose, a computer chip inside the packaging knows to remind them when to take the next one by making a beeping noise or flashing a light. For patients who take multiple specialty drugs at different times during the day, these adherence solutions are particularly important.
As the specialty pharmacy industry continues to expand, we’ll see continued advancement in the application of novel technologies, which will help to ensure patients get the most value and improvement in their lives from their specialty medications.
Surya Singh, MD
Founding Medical Partner
Dr. Singh is actively licensed & board certified in internal medicine. He is currently the CEO of gWell, Inc, a genomics and wellness focused digital health company, and serves as a senior advisor and board member for mission aligned companies and non-profits. In addition, he is an Adjunct Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He was formerly Corporate Vice-President and Chief Medical Officer of Specialty Pharmacy at CVS Health, and was an attending physician for many years at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.