Be a Top-Performing Pharmacy on Star Ratings Measures: Invest in Relationships with Physicians and Patients


This is part of an ongoing series on how community pharmacies are demonstrating outstanding performance under measures that CMS uses to calculate health plans’ Star Ratings. Although pharmacies are not assigned Star Ratings, a pharmacy’s actions can have a dramatic impact on health plans’ ratings. Those ratings affect plans’ reimbursement and enrollment period.

Speak the language of physicians and customers

Tony Bastian, owner of Joe’s Pharmacy, knows “even a small guy like me can make a difference” in patient care. He has the personal relationships and quality numbers to prove it.

Joe’s Pharmacy serves a high-risk geriatric population, with the average patient taking 15 medications. Located in the Richmond section of San Francisco, the pharmacy is in a multicultural, urban neighborhood. “It’s like the United Nations here,” Bastian said, with people who are homeless and others who are billionaires. The fact that Bastian speaks seven languages fluently helps Joe’s Pharmacy serve customers from a wide range of cultures.

Focusing on Patient Care

In a pilot study published in the Summer 2013 issue of California Pharmacist, Bastian worked with physicians on a medication therapy management (MTM) study involving high-risk Medicare patients. This study showed that pharmacist interventions can improve cardiovascular and quality-of-life outcomes while reducing medication errors.

During the study Bastian met with each patient three times over six months. Each time he conducted a comprehensive medication review (CMR); assessed patients’ physical condition by checking vital signs and testing cholesterol and glucose levels; and educated patients about their disease, medications and diet. Patients left each visit with health goals, recommendations and an action plan. Bastian sent physicians information about the patients’ medications and biometrics, as well as any recommendations. The results included statistically significant improvements in body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and quality of life measures.

In the last six months of 2014, Joe’s Pharmacy also exceeded the 2015 CMS five-star goals for all three adherence measures and had zero elderly patients on high-risk medications. It also was in the top 20% of pharmacies on the Electronic Quality Improvement Platform for Plans and Pharmacies (EQuIPP™) for the HRM measure.

Being a Leader

Bastian has owned Joe’s Pharmacy for 30 years and decided long ago that he was going to operate his pharmacy differently, with a passionate, patient-centered approach. “I don’t want to be a me-too, a follower,” Bastian said. “I want to be a leader.”

When the 2003 Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act added a drug benefit for seniors starting in 2006, Bastian realized pharmacy would play a more active role in healthcare delivery.

He hosted a dinner for local physicians to explain what MTM was and the need for it, so they wouldn’t think he was “practicing medicine without a license,” Bastian said. “They found out that this is an extension of the patient care that they provide.”

More recently, Bastian said, he was the first person in his area to explain Star Ratings to physicians.

Patient-Centered Care

In 2014, Joe’s Pharmacy completed more MTM cases than any other Health Mart® pharmacy in the AccessHealth® network.

“I always analyze and review the patient’s file before dispensing a prescription. If need be, I intervene with the physician,” he said. “You cannot believe how much they [physicians] appreciate that.”

He will ask questions, such as, “Mrs. Smith, are you happy with these medications? Do you have any problems?” Bastian explained. “I have to establish a relationship, a bond with these patients. They trust me. That doesn’t come overnight.”

When a new customer recently came to Joe’s Pharmacy with three diabetes prescriptions, Bastian took the time to explain the medications, even though he was receiving only about 50 cents to fill each. The customer said, “I used to go to Walgreen’s, and they would just give me a piece of paper.” That new customer brought 12 more prescriptions to Joe’s Pharmacy.

Direct Line to Docs

Bastian has developed strong relationships with physicians in his area. “They call me all the time,” he said. “They always consult and ask me questions.” If he doesn’t know the answer immediately, he researches it and calls them back.

“I like to talk to physicians directly,” Bastian said, and many have given him their mobile phone numbers or instructed staff members to put his calls through to the doctor.

“Physicians are constantly looking for a good pharmacy in their area,” Bastian said, especially primary care physicians. That’s an opportunity for independent pharmacies to step up and prove their value as a partner in patient care.

Four Ways to Stand Out as a Pharmacist

  1. Educate yourself daily. Tony Bastian devotes 30–60 minutes daily to staying up to date on developments in pharmacy and healthcare. When he talks with physicians, he can discuss diseases and medications in detail.
  2. Explain what you can do for physicians. Attend their conferences and speak in their language to discuss how you can help them and their patients. “You have to focus on their needs,” Bastian said.
  3. Talk about more than medications in MTM sessions. Discuss the lifestyle and behaviors that affect the patients. “When you do MTM, you need to be far-sighted,” Bastian said. He talks with patients about why they are taking each medication and why it is important for them to take it, including what could happen if they don’t. Then he discusses any obstacles to taking the medications as prescribed. “I like to make it easier for them to take the medications.” He doesn’t dictate what they must do but helps them identify solutions; for example, if they forget to take a pill at 8 a.m. they might be able to take it at 10 a.m. “They understand that you are helping them and giving them some other options.”
  4. Speak customers’ languages. Bastian leverages his multi-lingual fluency to build relationships with and better serve customers. When you learn your customers’ first language, he said, “it means you care.”

Creating and Developing Stronger Physician Relationships

McKesson’s Physician Outreach Program is an easy-to-use, comprehensive program that helps independent pharmacies build stronger relationships with local prescribers to attract new patients and improve patient care. With access to prescriber data, marketing plan templates and customizable materials, this program can help you establish your pharmacy’s competitive edge in your local market.

How is your pharmacy building relationships with patients and prescribers to create better patient outcomes?