Although a number of specialty pharmacies exist as stand-alone treatment providers, the rise of chronic and complex conditions has also led to specialty pharmacies that may operate out of a traditional pharmacy setting. The brief definition is that these providers are trained and certified to handle specialty pharmaceuticals, which can include chemotherapy drugs.
What are Specialty Pharmaceuticals?
The specialty pharmaceuticals definition is any class of drug that often has a complex process for manufacturing or administering. These will often include biological or bio-pharmaceutical drugs, but can also include synthesized compounds that are more difficult to produce. Many of these specialty pharmaceuticals will also require specific handling and administration procedures, which can include short shelf life.
Specialty pharmaceuticals also tend to be higher in cost to generate, as well as more complex in their production methods. They are not broad spectrum, such as an antibiotic, which may be used for a number of infections, but are specific to different chronic illnesses. Along with handling and shelf life issues, this is why most basic apothecaries do not carry specialty pharmaceuticals.
Where are Specialty Pharmacies Located?
Some specialty pharmacies will operate as a physical dispensary, while others may be located in clinics, hospitals, and long-term care settings. In many cases, they may also be associated with home care services, so that the administration process for the drugs can also be overseen. This is especially important in cases where infusion therapy is necessary, and clinical personnel are required to help patients adhere to their medication protocols.
Specialty pharmacies are increasing in prominence throughout the nation, with online and physical dispensaries that can accommodate different regions. Since they are also prevalent in clinical settings, many smaller hospitals and urgent care facilities are also beginning to see the benefit of maintaining a specialty pharmacy on site. These services allow for more patients to have easier access to the medications that can help improve quality of life.
The Purpose and Need for Specialty Pharmacies
Over the past decade, there has been a distinct rise in chronic diseases throughout the population. These include such conditions as:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Crohn’s Disease
As more of the population is in need of treatment methods that will address the very specific etiology of their illness, the development of medications which can allow for better management is also on the rise. Although pharmaceutical manufacturers are part of the solution to bringing better quality of life to individuals with chronic illnesses, the specialty pharmacy helps to ensure that the population is able to obtain their medications, and receive the treatments they need.
As any of these medications that are handled by specialty pharmacies are higher in cost, the plan behind these specific dispensaries is to aid in making the drugs more fiscally viable for patients, doctors, and insurance providers. By catering exclusively to the population that requires this type of treatment, specialty pharmacies are often able to operate with lower overhead, which can then be passed along as the value of affordability.
Can any Pharmacy be a Specialty Pharmacy?
Although some general pharmacies may carry biologics such as insulin and even some infusion therapies, many of the drugs that are managed through a specialty pharmacy will require specialized training for handling. This is especially true for solutions that are used in chemotherapy, and pharmacists as well as techs will need different certifications in order to work with these drugs. Technically, a specialty pharmacy will only deal in specialty pharmaceuticals, while a regular pharmacy may have some limited stock of medications that are considered to be in this category.
Does a Specialty Pharmacy Perform any Services?
Depending on the type of dispensary that is being considered, specialty pharmacies can do more than just distribute medications. Some of these operations are stand-alone companies, while others are more closely tied to different manufacturing companies. This allows for on-site compounding if different formulations of complex are necessary. For patients with HIV/AIDS or cancer, different combinations of the specialty drugs can be specific to the individual. The personnel at a specialty pharmacy can often accommodate these needs.
Since specialty pharmacies are often in operation as a partnership with hospitals, long-term care centers, and home care specialists, staff members can also assist patients in the administration of the drugs. While this often includes infusion therapies, it can also encompass teaching patients how to use different insulin pens or injection methods, assisting in education about side effects or interactions, and aiding patients in best practices for adherence to treatment. This makes specialty pharmacists a necessary resource in the world of healthcare, as these services further quality of life for patients.
Insurance and Specialty Pharmacies
Insurance provisions can often vary from state to state, but the majority of specialty pharmacies are able to bill through most national carriers. These pharmacies file in the same manner as a regular pharmacy will, so long as the treatment is approved by the insurance carrier. As the prevalence of chronic illnesses is increasing, specialty pharmaceuticals are being viewed as valid interventions. This allows for more of the drugs that have received FDA approval to be covered by the provider.
What if there is No Specialty Pharmacy Nearby?
Many specialty pharmacies do also operate as online dispensaries, which allow for physicians to send prescriptions through these channels and allow for patient to have their medications delivered. In some cases, the physician will work with the specialty pharmacy on their own, and dispense or administer treatment to patient during an office visit. In cases where home care is involved, these healthcare professionals may also become responsible for acting as the mediator between the patient and the specialty pharmacy.
Online specialty pharmacies can be preferable for patients who do not require help with administration. In these cases, the online provider will proceed just as a regular pharmacy does. Once they have verified the prescription from the physician, they will simply ensure the delivery to the patient.