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7 posts from October 2010

10/27/2010

Tag! We're It! A Tagline Embodies Tangible Benefits.

Tag you're it 

Quick, name the seven companies or products that go with the taglines below:

  • “Just Do It.”
  • “What happens here, stays here.”
  • “I’m loving it.”
  • “The nighttime sniffling sneezing coughing aching stuffy head fever so you can rest medicine”
  • “The happiest place on earth”
  • “Can you hear me now?”
  • “Eat fresh.”

I’d be willing to bet you immediately came up with six or seven (Nike, Las Vegas, McDonald’s, NyQuil, Disneyland/Walt Disney World, Verizon, Subway). That’s the power of a tagline. A great one serves as a hook, reminding you not only of the product but also what that product will deliver.

In a blog a few weeks ago, we explained the evolution of our brand name and our desire to reinforce what our brand—University of the Sciences—truly represents. As we continued to refine our branding, we wanted to create a tagline that would resonate with students, parents, alumni and guidance counselors, alumni, etc., communicating what USciences is all about and what they could expect from us.

 A great tagline encapsulates our “value proposition,” the benefits that a university, company or product provides to its students or customers, what it promises to deliver, and what makes it the better choice for the consumer. It answers the following questions that a potential customer might ask:

  • Who are you?
  • What are you about?
  • What can you promise me?

 In the case of USciences, our value proposition should give students a solid reason to believe that, when they come to USciences, we are assuring them of a certain type and standard of higher education. What is that education? What do we uniquely have to offer?

 “The culture of a university and its value set are the keys that drive it,” says USciences President Dr. Philip P. Gerbino. “For this institution it’s science and it’s healthcare, and those two values will never change.”

USciences logo 

“Where science and healthcare converge”—USciences newly unveiled tagline—defines both what we are and what we are not. We are not a liberal arts school. We are a school focused on those values Dr. Gerbino identifies: healthcare and science. “We’ve taken the principles of science and health professions,” says Dr. Gerbino, “bonded those together, and [we] make sure they are integrated into all our programs.”

We have a long history of teaching science as it relates to the health professions, and we have no plans to abandon that proposition. Students who come to USciences will be immersed in scientific discovery, training to be leaders in healthcare fields that are expanding every day. That’s a promise.

It’s a promise that is represented in our students’ career paths:

  • Payscale.com has ranked USciences graduates salary potential as 7th in the Northeast and 11th in the nation.
  • U.S. News & World Report ranked us 2nd in the nation in student loan repayment rate, an indication of our graduates’ high earnings.
  • Our acceptance rate into medical school historically has been nearly twice the national average.
  • Historically, within three months of graduation, 90% of our students are employed or have been accepted into graduate school.

“Science is the basis for all the health professions,” says Dr. Gerbino. Nowhere is that better understood—and taught—than at University of the Sciences, where healthcare and science converge.

Hear more of what our president and provost have to say about our new name, logo, and tagline by watching this video.

 

 

Prescription Benefit Programs - Pharmacy Needs Greater Strength and New Strategies!

By Daniel A. Hussar is the Remington Professor of Pharmacy at University of the Sciences' Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. He serves as the author and editor of The Pharmacist Activist newsletter (http://www.pharmacistactivist.com) from which this editorial was taken.

It has happened again! For the third consecutive Pennsylvania legislative session, each of which is two years in length, proposed legislation that addresses the inequities of many prescription benefit programs has died in committee. The proposed legislation would have prevented insurance companies and pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) from requiring patients to obtain certain prescriptions from a mail-order pharmacy and would prevent the use of financial incentives for patients to use a mail-order pharmacy. The proposed legislation was approved by a large margin in the House of Representatives and, following considerable delay, was approved by the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee. It was then referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee and discussions with the individual senators on this Committee indicated that there were enough votes for approval. However, the Chairman of the Committee refused to place this proposed legislation on the agenda and, as a consequence, it died in his committee and the full Senate was denied the opportunity to consider it before the conclusion of the legislative session.

Throughout the legislative session, the insurance companies, PBMs, and the legislators who opposed the proposal insisted that the legislation would increase the cost of prescription programs, and that the required or incentivized use of mail-order programs reduced costs. However, when requested to provide the studies and other information that supports their position, they either did not have it or claimed that it was proprietary information and could not be released. None of the legislators or their aides with whom I met had actually personally seen any studies or data. However, some of them were willing to accept these claims from companies who are in a position to present financial information in a manner that supports their own interests and plans to drive more patients and prescriptions to the mail-order pharmacies they own.

The word "frustration" is an understatement in describing the experience of the pharmacists who committed extensive time and effort in support of the legislative proposal. We consider our position to be so valid and important that it is difficult to accept rejection, even though it is temporary, when it is seemingly based on politics, secrecy, and deception. But we must learn from these experiences and further strengthen our support for the legislators who are willing to address our concerns, and challenge those who do not. It has also become very clear that the profession of pharmacy in general, and community pharmacists in particular, need much greater financial and political strength, as well as new strategies for attaining greater effectiveness in addressing our concerns. The following recommendations are proposed for evaluation and action.

Pharmacy networks

Many independent pharmacists are participants in buying groups or networks that increase their purchasing power and efficiency. This has proven to be an effective model on a local or regional basis but we must work toward the development of a national network of independent pharmacies. A critical question that must be addressed is whether the numerous local and regional groups/networks view each other as competitors or as colleagues who can work together in constructing a national network that has the potential for synergies in attaining greater purchasing and political strength. A network of 10,000 independent pharmacies would be considerably larger than even CVS and Walgreens.

It will take considerable planning and time to establish this national network of pharmacies. Therefore, we should concurrently identify one or more states that have the greatest potential to establish a statewide network of independent pharmacies. The development of such a network would provide a model that could be subsequently extended to the national level.

Negotiating

Antitrust is the word that is screamed as a warning to pharmacists who might consider working together as individuals or within a professional organization to insist on a higher rate of compensation for dispensing prescriptions and better terms of participation in the current "take it or leave it" prescription benefit programs. As a result, independent pharmacists are not able to effectively "negotiate" as individuals when dealing with a huge insurance company or PBM.

In stark contrast is the charade in which Walgreens and CVS Caremark were engaged earlier this year. Walgreens announced that it would be discontinuing its participation in prescription programs administered by CVS Caremark, but that it was receptive to further discussions. CVS Caremark responded by announcing that it would be dropping Walgreens from the programs it administers. The next announcement followed quickly-an agreement had been reached although the terms would not be disclosed. Clearly, Walgreens received a better deal, and it is just as clear that its deal is better than the ones available to independent pharmacists. This situation illustrates the power of numbers when the negotiator is a single corporate entity.

The profession of pharmacy must continue to pursue changes in the antitrust laws that would exempt individual pharmacists and permit them to work together and through our organizations to resolve the inequities of current prescription benefit programs. However, progress in this direction has been very limited and other alternatives must also be considered. As with the benefits identified earlier in the purchase of medications using the size and influence of networks, the concept of a large network of independent pharmacies requires active exploration with respect to having legal authority to negotiate on behalf of its members. The structure of such a network would have to include financial arrangements that would permit negotiating authority without violating antitrust laws. Would a parent "company" that would own a small fraction of each independent pharmacy in its network have the legal authority to negotiate for its members? Would 1% of the ownership be sufficient to have such authority and, if not, what percentage of ownership would provide such authority?

This is also a situation in which the implementation of such a network within a state might be accomplished much more quickly than on a national basis. Although each of the issues being considered is deserving of high-priority attention, the challenges of the prescription benefit programs must be considered urgent. Some PBMs are already moving in the direction of using preferred pharmacies or networks of pharmacies in programs that could prevent the involvement of independent pharmacies that wish to participate.

Pharmacist services

Community pharmacists must greatly expand the comprehensiveness and quality of the professional services provided to patients. Medication therapy management (MTM) services are extensively discussed but most pharmacists do not currently provide such services. The widespread provision of MTM services will go a long way towards demonstrating and documenting the value of the services we claim we are capable of providing. I recognize the difficulty encountered by community pharmacists in finding the time to participate in educational programs that will provide the competence and skills to provide such services, and then finding the time in a busy practice setting to provide these services on a timely basis. Some pharmacists will conclude that it is not possible to expand their professional services, particularly at a time when the compensation for dispensing prescriptions is inadequate and it is not known whether there will be compensation for additional services. However, it will be the pharmacists who do find a way to extend their services whose practices will have the best opportunity to not only survive, but thrive. The services these pharmacists provide should also result in higher levels of compensation (please see the editorial, "Prescription Benefit Programs - Classes of Pharmacies Should be Established," in the September 2009 issue of The Pharmacist Activist, www.pharmacistactivist.com).

Prescription benefit programs

The traditional terms and policies of many prescription benefit programs need to be reconsidered. Many of the components of these programs are coercive, restrictive, and inequitable for both patients and pharmacists. Some policies place patients at greater risk and extensive revisions are warranted (please see the editorial, "Prescription Benefit Programs - A New Model is Needed," in the June 2009 issue of The Pharmacist Activist, www.pharmacistactivist.com).

Medication packaging and distribution

In many countries prescription medications are dispensed in the packaging in which they are supplied by the manufacturer. This has not usually been the situation in the United States although there are an increasing number of examples in which commonly prescribed quantities of tablet and capsule formulations are prepackaged. There are many advantages of utilizing unit-of-use packaging including the elimination of the need and cost for a second container to be supplied by the pharmacy, the reduction in the amount of staff time utilized in the preparation of the prescription to be dispensed, and the decreased likelihood of a counterfeit product and/or contamination when the medication is dispensed in the sealed container supplied by the manufacturer. The opportunity to have a patient information leaflet directly affixed to the container by the manufacturer has also been suggested by some as an advantage; however, others have identified potential problems and questions as disadvantages.

Unit-of-use packaging can be both practical and efficient for the dispensing and use of many, but not all, medications. One example of how such a system would work advantageously for many medications would be to package them in containers containing 7-day and 30-day supplies that are consistent with the usual dosage recommendations. Some would also add a 90-day supply but I would contend that there is value in having patients obtain medications for chronic conditions at not more than 30-day intervals. This will permit closer monitoring of patient compliance in using the medication, an opportunity to discuss possible adverse events and for the patient to ask questions, and less wastage if the drug is discontinued or the dosage is changed.

Prepackaged quantities of commonly prescribed medications are already in widespread use in selected situations such as the discount generic prescription programs in certain chain pharmacies and in the offices of physicians who dispense medications. This approach to the packaging and dispensing of medications should be adopted on a much wider basis. Companies that market a large number of generic medications are best positioned to implement this strategy quickly although all companies should participate.

The topics considered in this commentary are diverse and challenging. However, they also include opportunities that we must not ignore and which offer exciting possibilities for pharmacists to extend the value of their services to patients.

 

10/26/2010

October Wellness Tips: Little Changes Can Make a Big Difference

The fall months are a time of great temptation with the increase of holiday sweets in the house, but it is also the perfect time to make little changes to your routine to stay active and healthy. Here are this month's wellness tips from Karin Richards, director of exercise science and wellness management:

* When choosing Halloween candy, go for the mini-sized candy bars over the fun-sized, which are a tad bigger. Also, choose candy you don't like for trick-or-treaters. It will help cut down on temptation.

* Know that it is okay to indulge in something sweet, but make sure to first eat a nutritious meal. You'll feel fuller and be less likely to go back for a second helping.

* Small changes each week can add up to big results: take the family for a walk after dinner to look at the beautiful autumn leaves or start a game of touch football in the backyard; park a little further from the store on your next grocery run; or skip the elevator and take the stairs.  You'll love the way you feel after burning these extra calories.

10/20/2010

Google Apps for Education at USciences

The University of the Sciences has "Gone Google". Google Apps for Education gives all faculty, students and staff a state-of-the-art communication and collaboration platform. Google Apps is not a learning management system (LMS) like Angel or Blackboard -- it supplements our existing e-learning and online administrative tools. For example, we now have the ability to easily share and collaboratively edit documents online that are compatible with Word, Excel and PowerPoint. No more trading large email attachments and loosing track of who has the latest revision. Faculty can share large documents and data files with collaborators all over the world without clogging up email in-boxes. We can also create unlimited “wiki” websites (Sites in Google parlance) and stream videos from our own private UScience branded YouTube-like site.

Acceptance by users has been very encouraging. In the month of September we’ve had almost 1,200 unique visitors visiting 2,952 times resulting in over 13,000 page views. Faculty, staff and students have created over 300 sites to help committees, departments, courses and programs collaborate without the constraints of Angel or the Campus Portal.  Popular use cases include building personal profiles, project management wikis, forms, surveys, and student e-portfolios and group project sites.

USciences faculty, staff and students can logon at http://start.online.usp.edu and find video tutorials and answers to frequently asked questions.

10/14/2010

Generic Medicines: Are they safe?

Amid a pounding headache, runny nose, or sore throat, an effective and safe medicine is of vital importance to find relief. But when scouring the pharmacy aisles, is it okay to buy the generic product?  Dr. Daniel A. Hussar, the Remington professor of pharmacy at University of the Sciences’ Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, feels consumers should have confidence in the quality and effectiveness of generic products.

“Every drug has a generic name,” explained Dr. Hussar. “When a company obtains patents for medications they are developing, they are provided a certain period of time during which that patent is applicable, and they have exclusive rights to market the drug. When the patent expires, other companies can pursue the right to market products, develop them to the specifications of the original ‘brand-name’ product, and sell the generic products.”

When purchasing a generic medicine that is available without a prescription, Dr. Hussar explained the first step is evaluating symptoms in need of relief.  Once symptoms are assessed, it is necessary to identify the active ingredient or ingredients in the brand name product.  When a runny nose and headache are the symptoms, consumers must look for a generic product with the same two active ingredients of the brand in the same exact quantities. 

“Sometimes that is easier said then done,” admitted Hussar. “Generic names like acetaminophen - the active ingredient in Tylenol - are tongue-twisting and usually are in smaller type print. There usually isn’t much reason or motivation for the consumer to try to learn the generic name as much as the brand name, but there are situations in which it is important to know of products with the same benefits.”

Dr. Hussar strongly recommends that patients speak with a pharmacist before selecting the generic product that will be the most effective and safest to use for the symptoms that they are experiencing.  Community pharmacists are a valuable resource to provide guidance on which medications should be used, medication ingredients, dosage, side-effects, and possible drug interactions.

“Generic products are necessary today in situations such as the recall of popular brand medicines,” said Dr. Hussar. “Pharmacists will be able to help consumers give sufficient thought to the medicine they are purchasing and the active ingredients they need to relieve their symptoms.”

Recognized annually as American Pharmacists Month, October is a time to recognize the significant contributions to healthcare and the commitment to patient care by pharmacists in all practice settings around the country. The theme this year is “Know Your Medicine. Know Your Pharmacist.”  The University of the Sciences American Pharmacists Association Academy of Student Pharmacists (APhA-ASP) chapter celebrates October with a host of activities to draw attention to the profession.

10/05/2010

CARE is Missing in Health Insurance Reform! Independent Pharmacists are Well Positioned to Provide It!

By Daniel A. Hussar, the Remington Professor of Pharmacy at the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. He serves as the author and editor of The Pharmacist Activist newsletter (http://www.pharmacistactivist.com) from which this editorial was taken.

My greatest concern regarding the health care reform legislation that has been passed is that I expect that the quality of the health care provided for individual patients is being jeopardized. It would be more accurate to identify the legislation as health insurance reform rather than health care reform. During the extensive debate and publicity regarding this legislation, does anyone recall discussion that addressed the quality of the health care to be provided? Yes, we will be able to say that millions of Americans who did not previously have health insurance will now have it, and that the expanded use of sophisticated technology will provide certain advantages. However, the proponents of this legislation have also claimed that the overall cost of health care will be reduced. How will it be possible to reduce costs when health care will be provided to millions more patients and other costly changes will be implemented?

Some will respond that waste and fraud in the health care system has a cost of billions of dollars a year and that this will be eliminated. Fraud and waste must not be tolerated and this is certainly a laudable goal. But if fraud and waste are recognized to the point that we can estimate their cost, why is not more being done already to eliminate them? We did not need legislation to take action! And can we be any more confident that the passage of legislation will result in more effective reduction of fraud and waste than the current system (or non-system) that is in place now?

Some have suggested that a reduction in fees for physicians and pharmacists will result in savings in the provision of health care. In recent years the Congress has been playing games with a reduction in physician fees for providing services to patients in the Medicare program. Although physicians have been in strong opposition, a substantial cut in fees was to have been implemented earlier this year. However, the legislators delayed action on this fee cut, and will not consider this matter again until after the election. This delay does nothing more than demonstrate the cowardice of the Congress in failing to address an issue because of its political implications.

At the same time the politicians seem to think that reducing fees for health professionals will reduce the cost of health care, they enable insurance companies, pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), and government agencies to dictate the conditions and compensation offered to health professionals on a take it or leave it basis. They permit this, as one example, by refusing to approve legislation that will allow pharmacists to work together in negotiating the terms of prescription benefit programs. As a consequence, health professionals and, therefore, patients are at the mercy of insurance companies and PBMs whose highest priority is profit, and also legislators, many of whom do not have expertise regarding health care and/or the courage to make the best decisions.

The health care system(s) that have been in place over the years have serious flaws, and health professionals must accept our significant share of the responsibility for our failure to develop a higher-quality and more financially responsible system. However, we are now moving toward the other extreme in which the scope and quality of health care for individual patients may be significantly compromised. As much as pharmacists and our organizations have been encouraged by the inclusion of medication therapy management (MTM) in the legislation, I am concerned that our focus has been too narrow and that there has not been sufficient attention to important questions such as who will be providing MTM (i.e., pharmacists, PBMs, other health professionals?) and how will such initiatives be funded?

Where is the care?

Even at the present time some health benefit programs are requiring physicians to see more patients and are requiring patients to obtain prescriptions from mail-order pharmacies. These situations, combined with patients waiting in lines at many understaffed local pharmacies, result in a significant reduction in the amount of time committed to face-to-face discussion between patients with their physicians and pharmacists. To this point the consideration of the "reform" of health care has essentially been limited to insurance, economics, and politics. In my opinion, the reforms that have been proposed will result in the further reduction of communication with and care for patients.

We are very familiar with the remarkable, and even life-saving, benefits that can be attained with the appropriate use of medications. We are also well aware that drug-related problems occur very often - problems such as prescribing and dispensing errors, adverse events, drug interactions, and patient noncompliance. Most of these drug-related problems are preventable! So why do they still occur so frequently?

I would contend that most preventable drug-related problems could be avoided if physicians and pharmacists would spend more time in face-to-face discussions with their patients. This would provide greater opportunity for discussing important information about the patient's illness and medications, and encouraging the patient to ask questions. Also extremely important, but far too often overlooked, is the recognition by the patient of the care that physicians and pharmacists have demonstrated in these discussions. This reflects a personal touch, the value of which can not be overstated. I am convinced that patients who experience caring on the part of their health professionals, and also understand the reasons for which their medications have been prescribed as well as their appropriate use, will be much more compliant in using their medications and more alert to symptoms or other warning signs that will enable early identification and prevention of potential drug-related problems. Drug-related problems can be, and must be, greatly reduced. Numerous patients can be spared the harmful, and even fatal, consequences of such problems and, in addition, the substantial reduction in the cost to manage drug-related problems will be of great value in balancing the increased financial commitment necessary to support the additional time being devoted to patient care by physicians and pharmacists.

Which pharmacists will provide the care?

I consider the demonstration of care, and the commitment and information that accompany it, to be the most important responsibility that pharmacists must fulfill if our role as health professionals is to be strengthened, better recognized, and financially supported. But which pharmacists have the personal commitment and are best positioned to provide this care, as well as their expertise?

Hospital pharmacists? Many progressive advances in health care and the practice of pharmacy have been initiated by hospital pharmacists. However, many pharmacists in the hospital setting have limited, if any, direct communication with patients. In addition, at any given time, the number of patients receiving the benefits of the services of hospital pharmacists is only a very small fraction of the population.

Mail-order pharmacists? Although pharmacists practicing in the mail-order setting may be very capable, their employers have made a decision that face-to-face discussion of a pharmacist with a patient does not have value and is not necessary. It is essentially impossible for a mail-order pharmacist to demonstrate personal care for a patient.

Chain pharmacists? There are many capable and caring pharmacists who practice in the chain pharmacy setting, and there are some chain pharmacies that value and promote the professional role of their pharmacists. However, the executives of most chain pharmacies, including the largest ones, focus only on money, profit, and stock value, and do not care about the profession of pharmacy or the health of their customers. It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for even the most dedicated chain pharmacist, to counsel patients and demonstrate caring in an understaffed pharmacy with long lines of patients waiting for prescriptions that company policy promises within 15 minutes.

Independent pharmacists? Many independent pharmacists are highly respected by their patients and communities because of their caring for those they serve and the scope and quality of their services. There are also some independent pharmacists who do not demonstrate this commitment. However, it is the independent pharmacists who are primarily responsible for the high level of respect and trust accorded the profession of pharmacy by the public. All pharmacists benefit as a result of how well they represent our profession. Independent pharmacists are in the best position to provide caring and services for a very large number of patients, and our entire profession should support them.

Challenges and opportunities

It has become increasingly difficult to own an independent pharmacy. There are numerous challenges such as prescription benefit programs that include mandates or incentives for patients to use a mail-order pharmacy, and restrictions that limit the participation of local pharmacies. However, many independent pharmacists have responded to the challenges in a manner that has enabled them to continue to be professionally and financially successful. But much more needs to be done to increase the number and influence of these pharmacists. We should start by increasing the awareness of pharmacy students and young pharmacists of the opportunities for owning their own pharmacy. Colleges of pharmacy, pharmacy associations, and wholesalers have important roles in providing encouragement, expertise, and financial planning to support those having this interest.

The profession is currently experiencing a significant tightening in the job market. Chain pharmacies have been the largest employer of pharmacists in recent years but they now have a much smaller number of positions available. If positions are not available with the traditional employers of pharmacists, more pharmacy graduates will seriously consider owning their own pharmacy. An increasing number of chain pharmacists who have become disillusioned as a result of a stressful work environment and inadequate staffing will consider starting their own pharmacy. I am convinced that a pharmacist who cares for and effectively serves her/his patients and community can open a pharmacy right next door to most chain pharmacies and have a well-respected and successful practice.

10/04/2010

Philadelphia Inquirer's Consumer 10.0: Pharmacists take on mail-order

In Sunday's Philadelphia Inquirer, Jeff Gelles' column talks about health care plans steering prescriptions to mail-order pharmacies and the push back from Pennsylvania's pharmacists. Featured in the column is Dr. Daniel Hussar, the Remington professor of pharmacy at University of the Sciences’ Philadelphia College of Pharmacy. Hussar comments on the "questionable benefits of mail-order prescriptions" and "the lost value associated with face-to-face contact between patients and traditional pharmacists." Read the full article here.

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