What is a chief pharmacy officer and does your hospital pharmacy need one?

Hospital pharmacies are multi-faceted organizations with responsibilities in a number of different areas critical to the success of health systems and the improved care of patients. What's more, as treatments and other hospital operations evolve, hospital pharmacy must continue to advance and be part of the overall hospital strategy.

A number of large hospitals and health systems have continued to add the role of chief pharmacy officer. But what part does the CPO play in the overall activities of the health system and hospital pharmacy, and would your organization benefit from having this person in place? Let's take a look:

The emerging role of CPO

The role of the CPO first emerged about a decade ago, but this role is more important to hospital pharmacy operations now than ever before. When this position was first being introduced, the health care industry was dealing with increasing pressures pertaining to cost and safety, creating "the perfect storm," noted Marianne F. Ivey, Pharm.D., MPH, FASHP, now retired from the Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati and the University of Cincinnati. This landscape necessitated a change in pharmacists' roles, namely the creation of a more senior position that would enable the pharmacy to better deal with the challenges of billing, revenue and medical safety, Ivey pointed out.

"Having a CPO sends the message that the facility will be wholly focused on providing patient care."

Now, more than a decade after Ivey's initial thoughts, hospitals across the country have put a CPO in place, or are in the process of adding this role. Having this position within the pharmacy sends the message that the facility will be wholly focused on providing patient care, particularly when the pharmacy's interests are better represented with senior management.

"Pharmacy has been considered a supportive care division and involved along the line, but having pharmacy at the table from the beginning is fruitful," Robert T. Adamson, RWJBarnabas Health's chief pharmacy officer, told HealthLeaders Media. "Without a CPO, it's very difficult to marry the strategic plan of the health system with the direction of the pharmacy."

Responsibilities and benefits

In addition to providing a better bridge between the pharmacy and the organization's executive management team, the CPO also takes on other specialized responsibilities. Adamson, who was named RWJBarnabas Health's first CPO in mid-2015, noted that the CPO is also in charge of order sets, identifying cost efficiencies for drug purchasing and usage, as well as working to reduce the length of stay for patients and prevent readmission. Overall, the CPO's top goal is the standardization of clinical pathways and ensuring that the hospital's pharmacy can offer the best, most effective and cost-efficient care possible.

The CPO works to ensure operations are less siloed between the pharmacy and other areas of the hospital as well. RWJBarnabas Health has seen significant improvements thanks to Adamson's efforts to break down the barriers that kept pharmacy activity separate from departments like ambulatory, home infusion, mail order and other specialty services. With increased visibility across these departments, hospital staff can work more closely to ensure patient needs are met.

"Before, pharmacy was fragmented and underutilized, and now we are one voice connecting to the patient," Adamson said.

The CPO's role doesn't end with internal hospital departments. This individual can also help smooth relationships with patients, as well as the third-party vendors and providers that the hospital and pharmacy work with. In this way, the core pharmacy staff can better focus on daily operations and patient care while the CPO oversees other, overarching processes.

The CPO can help ensure cost efficiency with unit-dose repackaged medication.
The CPO can help ensure cost efficiency with unit-dose repackaged medication.

Cost considerations

It is also up to the CPO to ensure that the pharmacy is utilizing its resources to the best of its ability. The bulk of these considerations are tied to the organization's prescription drugs, including the purchasing and disbursement of this medication. This has historically been a pain point for hospital pharmacies and particularly those health systems that have numerous hospital locations. However, the emerging CPO role alongside best practices like a system approach to unit-dose packaging for medication has helped keep costs down despite increasing drug prices.

Overall, the role of the CPO brings numerous advantages to health systems, including ensuring that the pharmacy's interests are well represented with the executive team, as well as standardizing processes and savings opportunities that make sense. What's more, this person can also help break down hospital silos, streamlining patient care and eliminating complexities.

Health care providers can reap even more benefits when they leverage a unit-dose repackaging strategy, overseen by their CPO. In this way, the hospital can more strategically purchase medications at the lowest cost per dose and still ensure it is in a proper unit dose and bar coded format.  Effective outsourcing of unit dose repackaging for oral medications not only supports a the CPO and health system goals of cost efficiency, but ultimately improves patient safety as well.

To find out more about how unit-dose repackaging can help support your CPO and the overall hospital pharmacy, contact a Safecor Health representative today.