Demand for low cost, convenient access to doctors and drugs is driving transformation to decentralized medical care, and retail pharmacy chains see opportunity in offering primary care services
Retail pharmacies and pharmacists continue to play a growing role in healthcare as consumer demand for lower cost and convenience pushes the nation’s medical landscape away from centralized healthcare systems. Clinical laboratories have seen this in the increasing trend of consumers seeking vaccinations and home-health tests at their local drug stores.
Results of a pair of surveys dubbed “Pharmacy Next” conducted by Wolters Kluwer Health revealed that 58% of people are now willing to be treated for non-emergency healthcare conditions in non-traditional medical environments, such as retail pharmacies and clinics.
This is a finding that clinical laboratory managers and pathologists should incorporate into their labs’ strategic planning. It portends a shift in care away from the traditional primary care clinic—typically located in the campus around the community hospital—and toward retail pharmacies. Labs will want to capture the test referrals originating from the primary care clinics located in retail pharmacies.
This willingness to access medical care in non-traditional environments is especially true among people in Generation Y (Millennials) and Generation Z (Zoomers)—people born between 1981-1996 (Gen Y) and 1997-2012 (Gen Z), according to Journey Matters.
“As we saw in last year’s survey, primary care decentralization is continuing—the traditional one doctor-one patient, single point of coordination is vanishing, and this is especially evident in younger generations,” said Peter Bonis, MD, Wolters Kluwer’s Chief Medical Officer, in a press release.
The online surveys of more than 2,000 US adults was weighted by age, gender, household income, and education to be representative of the entire population of the United States.
“By preparing for this shift today, providers can work in concert across care sites to deliver the best care to patients,” said Peter Bonis, MD, Wolters Kluwer Health Chief Medical Officer, in a press release. “Likewise, newer care delivery models, like retail pharmacies and clinics, can ensure they’re ready to meet the expectations of healthcare consumers, who will increasingly be turning to them for a growing range of care needs.” Clinical laboratories may find new revenue opportunities working with the primary care clinics operating within local retail pharmacists and clinicians. (Photo copyright: Wolters Kluwer.)
Key Findings of the Wolters Kluwer Pharmacy Next Studies
Some key insights of the surveys include:
Care is rapidly decentralizing with 58% stating they are likely to visit a local pharmacy for non-emergency medical care.
Younger generations are signaling lasting change within the industry as they are more open to non-traditional styles of care.
61% of respondents envision most primary care services being provided at pharmacies, retail clinics, or pharmacy clinics within the next five years. Of the respondents, 70% of Millennials, 66% of Gen Z, 65% of Gen X, and 43% of Baby Boomers believe this transition will occur.
Consumers are worried about prescription costs and availability.
92% of respondents said physicians and pharmacists should inform patients of generic options.
59% of surveyed consumers have concerns about drug tampering and theft when it involves mail order or subscription prescription services.
One in three respondents believe convenience is more important than credentials in non-emergency situations.
The survey indicates that healthcare consumers across multiple generations are open to a shift in some medical services from doctors to pharmacists. However, there were some notable differences between generations.
Respondents of the Baby Boomer (55%) and Gen X (57%) generations stated they would trust a physician assistant with medication prescriptions, while only 42% of Gen Z and 47% of Millennial respondents felt the same way.
Additionally, Boomers (57%) and Gen X (67%) said they would feel comfortable with a nurse practitioner issuing their prescriptions, while only 44% of Gen Z and 53% of Millennials said they would.
Increased Comfort with Genetic Testing at Pharmacies
Overall, 68% of individuals polled believe their individual genomic data could guide prescription decisions, with Millennials (77%) and Gen Z (74%) being the primary believers. Additionally, 88% of respondents stated they see an incentive for health insurers to cover genomic testing, and 72% said they would be open to genetic testing for personalized medical care.
But pharmacists and clinicians should be aware that advancing pharmacogenomics will require addressing privacy concerns. According to the Wolters Kluwer study, 57% of Gen Z and 53% of Millennials have apprehension surrounding genetic testing due to privacy risks, with 35% of Gen X and Boomers holding that same opinion.
Healthcare Staff Shortages, Drug Cost a Concern
Survey respondents are also concerned about pharmacy staff shortages and expenditures when seeking care at a pharmacy. Half of the participants are worried they will receive the wrong medication, half worry about getting the incorrect dosage, and almost half (47%) fear receiving the wrong directions due to overburdened pharmacy employees.
More people in Gen Z (59%) and Millennials (60%) had these concerns compared to Gen X (44%) and Boomers (38%).
Sadly, a distressing 44% of those surveyed admitted to not filling a prescription due to the costs. That number jumps to a staggering 56% among individuals with no health insurance, compared to 42% for insured patients.
“From hospitals to doctors’ offices, from pharmacies to pharma and beyond, healthcare must move to more affordable and accessible primary care models, adopt innovations that help deliver more personalized care, and address persistent safety and cost concerns that consumers have about their medications,” said Bonis in the press release.
Can Pharmacies Deliver Primary Care as Well as Doctor’s Offices?
Pharmacies may be logical setting for at least some non-emergency health services. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 90% of the US population live within five miles of a pharmacy and about 72% of visits to physician’s offices involve the prescribing and monitoring of medication therapies.
“We’re not talking about complicated services. We’re talking low-acuity, very basic care,” said Anita Patel, PharmD, Vice President of Pharmacy Services Development for Walgreens, at the HIMSS conference.
Pharmacies across the country continue to add more healthcare services to their available public offerings. This trend will likely persist into the future as healthcare becomes more expensive, wait times for physician appointments increases, and medical staff shortages rise. Thus, there may be opportunities for clinical laboratories to support pharmacists and doctors working in retail settings.
From ‘new-school’ rules of running a clinical laboratory to pharmacy partnerships to leveraging lab data for diagnostics, key industry executives discussed the new era of clinical laboratory and pathology operations
“COVID-19 didn’t change a whole lot of things in one sense, but it accelerated a lot of trends that were already happening in healthcare,” said Robert L. Michel, Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and its sister publication The Dark Report, and Founder of the Executive War College, during his opening keynote address to a packed ballroom of conference attendees. “Healthcare is transforming, and the transformation is far more pervasive than most consumers appreciate.
“Disintermediation, for example, is taking traditional service providers and disrupting them in substantial ways, and if you think about the end of fee-for-service, be looking forward because your labs can be paid for the value you originate that makes a difference in patient care,” Michel added.
Another opportunity for clinical laboratories, according to Michel, is serving Medicare Advantage plans which have soared in enrollment. “Lab leaders should be studying Medicare Advantage for how to integrate Medicare Advantage incentives into their lab strategies,” he said, highlighting the new influence of risk adjustment models which use diagnostic data to predict health condition expenditures.
Opening sessions at this week’s annual Executive War College on Diagnostics, Clinical Laboratory, and Pathology Management, presented by Robert L. Michel (above), Editor-in-Chief of Dark Daily and its sister publication The Dark Report, discussed demand for delivering healthcare services—including medical laboratory testing—as consumer preferences evolve, new care models are designed, and as payers seek value over volume. While these three forces may be challenging at the outset, they also create opportunities for clinical laboratories and pathology groups—a focal point of the Executive War College each year. (Photo copyright: The Dark Intelligence Group.)
Medical Laboratories Must Adapt to ‘New-School’ Rules
During his keynote address, Stan Schofield, Vice President and Managing Principal at The Compass Group, noted that while the basic “old-school” rules of successfully running a clinical laboratory have not changed—e.g., adding clients, keeping clients, creating revenue opportunities, getting paid, and reducing expenses—the interpretation of each rule has changed. The Compass Group is a trade federation based in South Carolina that serves not-for-profit healthcare integrated delivery networks (IDNs), including 32 health systems and 600 hospitals.
Schofield advised that when it comes to adding new clients under the “new-school” rules of lab management, clinical laboratory directors must be aware of and adapt to hospital integrations of core labs, clinical integrations across health systems, seamless services, direct contracting with employers in insurance relationships, and direct-to-consumer testing. Keeping clients, Schofield said, involves five elements:
Strong customer service.
A tailored metrics program for quality services based on what is important to a lab’s clients.
Balanced scorecards that look at the business opportunity and value proposition with each client.
Monitoring patients’ experiences and continuous improvement.
Participation in all payer agreements.
As to the problem of commoditization of laboratory goods and services, Schofield said, “Right now, we’re facing the monetization of the laboratory. We’re going to swiftly move from commoditization to monetization to commercialization.”
Diagnostics and pharmacy now intersect, according to Pope. “Pharmacists are on the move, and they are true contender as a new provider for you,” he said. “An area of pharmacy that is dependent upon labs is specialty medications.”
Specialty medicines now account for 55% of prescription spending, up from 28% in 2011, driven by growth in auto-immune and oncology, Pope noted. Other examples include companion diagnostics required for targeted treatments pertaining to all major cancers, and new areas like thalassemia (inherited blood disorders), obesity, next-generation sequencing, and pharmacogenomics, in addition to routine testing such as liver function and complete blood count (CBC).
Federal legislation may soon recognize pharmacists as healthcare providers who will be trained to perform specific clinical services, Pope said. Some states already recognize pharmacists as providers, he noted, explaining that pharmacies need lab data for three primary reasons:
Service—Pharmacies can act as a referral source to clinical laboratories. When referring, pharmacies may need to communicate lab test results to patients or providers to coordinate care.
Value-based care—Pharmacies would draw on data to counsel, prescribe, and coordinate care for chronic disease management, among other services.
Diagnostics and pharmacogenetics—Specialty medication workflows require documented test results within a specific timeframe prior to dispensing.
Another point Pope made: Large pharmacies are seeking lab partners. Labs that can provide rapid turnaround time and good pricing on complex tests provide pharmacies with partnership opportunities.
Using AI to Create Patients’ ‘Digital Twins’ That Help Identify Disease and Improve Care
High-tech healthcare technology underlies many opportunities in the clinical laboratory and pathology market, as evidenced throughout the Executive War College’s 2023 curriculum. An ongoing challenge for labs, however, is how to produce the valuable datasets that all labs have the potential to generate.
“It feels like we’ve come so far,” explained Brad Bostic, CEO of hc1 during his keynote address. “We’ve got the internet. We’ve got the cloud. All of this is amazing, but in reality, we have this massive proliferation of data everywhere and it’s very difficult to know how to actually put that into use. And nobody’s generating more data than clinical laboratories.
“Every single interaction with a patient that generates data gives you this opportunity to create the idea of a ‘digital twin.’ That means that labs are creating a mathematical description of what a person’s state is and using that information to look at how providers can optimally diagnose and treat that person. Ultimately, it is bigger than just one person. It’s hundreds of millions of people that are generating all this data, and many of these people fall into similar cohorts.”
This digital twin opportunity is heavily fueled by medical laboratory testing, Bostic said, adding that labs need to be able to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to:
“I recommend lab leaders sit down with their teams and any outside partners they trust and identify what are their lab’s goals,” Bostic stated. “Think about how this technology can advance a lab’s mission. Look at strategy holistically—everything from internal operations to how patient care is affected.”
As demand for DTC at-home genetic testing increases among consumers and healthcare professionals, clinical laboratories that offer similar assays may want to offer their own DTC testing program
Things are happening in the direct-to-consumer (DTC) medical laboratory testing market. Prior to the pandemic, the number of consumers interested in ordering their own diagnostic tests grew at a rapid rate. The SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, however, and the need for consumers to access COVID-19 tests, caused DTC test sales to skyrocket.
LetsGetChecked describes itself as a “virtual care company that allows customers to manage their health from home, providing direct access to telehealth services, pharmacy, and [clinical] laboratory tests with at-home sample collection kits for a wide range of health conditions,” according to the company’s LinkedIn page.
“Through these acquisitions, LetsGetChecked will leverage the power of whole genome sequencing to launch a full lifecycle of personalized healthcare, delivering the most comprehensive health testing and care solution on the market,” said Peter Foley, Founder and CEO of LetsGetChecked in a press release.
“By integrating Veritas Genetics’ and Veritas Intercontinental’s capabilities with LetsGetChecked’s scalable diagnostic and virtual care infrastructure, we are able to turn comprehensive genetic insights into practical recommendations and lifestyle changes, guided by clinical experts,” he added.
Leveraging the Power of Whole Genome Sequencing
To date, LetsGetChecked claims it has delivered nearly three million at-home direct-to-consumer tests and served more than 300 corporate customers with testing services and biometric screening solutions since its founding in 2015.
The company focuses on manufacturing, logistics, and lab analysis in its CAP-accredited, CLIA-certified laboratory in Monrovia, Calif., as well as physician support, and prescription fulfillment. The DTC company’s products include at-home tests for women’s health, men’s health, basic wellness, sexual health, and SARS-CoV-2 testing.
Veritas Genetics also was a DTC testing company co-founded by internationally-known geneticist George Church, PhD. In 2016, the company announced it would deliver a whole human genome sequence (WGS) for just $999—breaking the $1,000 cost barrier for whole genome sequencing.
“There is no more comprehensive genetic test than your whole genome,” Rodrigo Martinez, former Veritas Chief Marketing and Design Officer, told CNBC. “So, this is a clear signal that the whole genome is basically going to replace all other genetic tests. And this [price drop] gets it closer and closer and closer.”
That market strategy did not succeed. By the end of 2019, the company announced it would cease operations in the United States but continue operations in Europe and Latin America. It has sought a buyer for the company since that time. Now, almost three years later, LetsGetChecked will become the new owner of Veritas Genetics.
Veritas’ primary product, myGenome was launched in 2018 as a whole genome sequencing and interpretation service to help consumers improve their health and increase longevity. The myGenome test screens for and provides insight on many hereditary diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disorders. It also provides observations on more than 50 personal traits and ancestry information.
In addition to bringing whole genome sequencing abilities to its test offerings for consumers, LetsGetChecked hopes the acquisitions will create new testing capabilities such as pharmacogenomics, cancer and viral screenings, and maternal fetal screenings.
“By integrating Veritas Genetics’ and Veritas Intercontinental’s genetics offering with our scalable virtual care infrastructure, we are able to leverage the power of whole genome sequencing to launch a full lifecycle of personalized healthcare, which has always been our goal,” Foley told MobiHealthNews.
Veritas Genetics and Veritas Intercontinental will continue to operate under the LetsGetChecked family of companies.
BioIQ also Acquired by LetsGetChecked
In early May, LetsGetChecked also acquired diagnostic testing and health improvement technology company BioIQ, which will continue to operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary.
BioIQ offers at-home tests, health screenings, and vaccinations to consumers. The company’s products include:
Heart health panel,
Prevention panel, and
Individual tests offered by BioIQ include:
Hepatitis C test and
Sexually transmitted diseases.
BioIQ also offer e-vouchers for health screenings and vaccinations at participating retail pharmacies, clinical laboratories, and physician’s offices.
“The future of healthcare is in providing high-quality at-home diagnostics and care that comprehensively serve an individual’s health needs throughout their whole life,” said Foley in a press release about the BioIQ acquisition. “With this acquisition, LetsGetChecked gains a trusted partner with an extensive knowledge base and a breadth of experience in serving health plans and employer markets to deliver healthcare solutions at scale.”
These acquisitions by LetsGetChecked demonstrate how genetic testing companies are pivoting to new strategies. Clinical laboratories that perform genetic testing will want to monitor how these partnerships unfold in the future as healthcare consumers and providers continue to embrace at-home genetic testing.
Genomic sequencing continues to benefit patients through precision medicine clinical laboratory treatments and pharmacogenomic therapies
EDITOR’S UPDATE—Jan. 26, 2022: Since publication of this news briefing, officials from Genomics England contacted us to explain the following:
The “five million genome sequences” was an aspirational goal mentioned by then Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock, MP, in an October 2, 2018, press release issued by Genomics England.
As of this date a spokesman for Genomics England confirmed to Dark Daily that, with the initial goal of 100,000 genomes now attained, the immediate goal is to sequence 500,000 genomes.
In accordance with this updated input, we have revised the original headline and information in this news briefing that follows.
What better proof of progress in whole human genome screening than the announcement that the United Kingdom’s 100,000 Genome Project has not only achieved that milestone, but will now increase the goal to 500,000 whole human genomes? This should be welcome news to clinical laboratory managers, as it means their labs will be positioned as the first-line provider of genetic data in support of clinical care.
Many clinical pathologists here in the United States are aware of the 100,000 Genome Project, established by the National Health Service (NHS) in England (UK) in 2012. Genomics England’s new goal to sequence 500,000 whole human genomes is to pioneer a “lasting legacy for patients by introducing genomic sequencing into the wider healthcare system,” according to Technology Networks.
The importance of personalized medicine and of the power of precise, accurate diagnoses cannot be understated. This announcement by Genomics England will be of interest to diagnosticians worldwide, especially doctors who diagnose and treat patients with chronic and life-threatening diseases.
Building a Vast Genomics Infrastructure
Genetic sequencing launched the era of precision medicine in healthcare. Through genomics, drug therapies and personalized treatments were developed that improved outcomes for all patients, especially those suffering with cancer and other chronic diseases. And so far, the role of genomics in healthcare has only been expanding, as Dark Daily covered in numerous ebriefings.
Genomics England, which is wholly owned by the Department of Health and Social Care in the United Kingdom, was formed in 2012 with the goal of sequencing 100,000 whole genomes of patients enrolled in the UK National Health Service. That goal was met in 2018, and now the NHS aspires to sequence 500,000 genomes.
Genomics England’s initial goals included:
To create an ethical program based on consent,
To set up a genomic medicine service within the NHS to benefit patients,
To make new discoveries and gain insights into the use of genomics, and
To begin the development of a UK genomics industry.
To gain the greatest benefit from whole genome sequencing (WGS), a substantial amount of data infrastructure must exist. “The amount of data generated by WGS is quite large and you really need a system that can process the data well to achieve that vision,” said Richard Scott, MD, PhD, Chief Medical Officer at Genomics England.
In early 2020, Weka, developer of the WekaFS, a fully parallel and distributed file system, announced that it would be working with Genomics England on managing the enormous amount of genomic data. When Genomics England reached 100,000 sequenced genomes, it had already gathered 21 petabytes of data. The organization expects to have 140 petabytes by 2023, notes a Weka case study.
Putting Genomics England’s WGS Project into Action
WGS has significantly impacted the diagnosis of rare diseases. For example, Genomics England has contributed to projects that look at tuberculosis genomes to understand why the disease is sometimes resistant to certain medications. Genomic sequencing also played an enormous role in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
Scott notes that COVID-19 provides an example of how sequencing can be used to deliver care. “We can see genomic influences on the risk of needing critical care in COVID-19 patients and in how their immune system is behaving. Looking at this data alongside other omics information, such as the expression of different protein levels, helps us to understand the disease process better,” he said.
What’s Next for Genomics Sequencing?
As the research continues and scientists begin to better understand the information revealed by sequencing, other areas of scientific study like proteomics and metabolomics are becoming more important.
“There is real potential for using multiple strands of data alongside each other, both for discovery—helping us to understand new things about diseases and how [they] affect the body—but also in terms of live healthcare,” Scott said.
Along with expanding the target of Genomics England to 500,000 genomes sequenced, the UK has published a National Genomic Strategy named Genome UK. This plan describes how the research into genomics will be used to benefit patients. “Our vision is to create the most advanced genomic healthcare ecosystem in the world, where government, the NHS, research and technology communities work together to embed the latest advances in patient care,” according to the Genome UK website.
Clinical laboratories professionals with an understanding of diagnostics will recognize WGS’ impact on the healthcare industry. By following genomic sequencing initiatives, such as those coming from Genomics England, pathologists can keep their labs ready to take advantage of new discoveries and insights that will improve outcomes for patients.
The software applications (apps) and hardware monitoring devices involved in digital therapeutics enable physicians and patients to target and alter specific behaviors that affect certain medical conditions, such as substance abuse or depression. Combined with or without drugs, digital therapeutics are achieving positive results, according to the United Kingdom’s PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) Health Research Institute (PwC HRI).
The report goes on to state that digital therapeutics “is
reshaping the landscape for new medicines, product reimbursement and regulatory
oversight … [and that] new data sharing processes and payment models will be
established to integrate these products into the broader treatment arsenal and
regulatory structure for drug and device approvals.
“Connected health services,” the report continues, “enabled by devices that transmit data or connect to the Internet, give additional visibility into care delivery and new ways to improve patient outcomes.”
Digital therapeutics combine apps and monitoring devices for
the management and treatment of medical conditions. While similar to customer
wellness apps, digital therapeutics focus on specific clinical outcomes.
The non-profit Digital Therapeutics Alliance says that, unlike common “wellness” apps, digital therapeutics “possess the unique ability to incorporate additional functionalities into a comprehensive portfolio of synchronous products and services. This includes potential integration with mobile health platforms; the provision of complementary diagnostic or adherence interventions; the ability to pair with devices, sensors, or wearables; the delivery of interventions remotely; and integration into electronic prescribing, dispensing, and medical record platforms.”
“Digital therapeutics are the next frontier,” Sai Jasti, Chief Data and Analytics Officer, GlaxoSmithKline (NYSE:GSK), told PwC HRI. “I think we will see a lot more collaboration between pharmaceutical and technology companies to drive this forward, ultimately to the benefit of patients.”
Digital Therapeutics That Already Have FDA Approval
Digital therapeutics and their connected devices are subject
to the approval process of the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and
some have already received that coveted clearance:
“Digital technologies and data science have incredible potential to unlock the next chapter of medical innovation and to help individuals finally take control of their own health in a meaningful way,” said Richard Francis, Division Head and CEO, Sandoz, in a press release. “New digital therapeutics such as reSET-O also have the potential to fundamentally change how patients interact with their therapies and thus improve patient outcomes.”
“Nearly 50,000 drug overdose deaths involving opioids, including prescription pain medications and heroin, took place in the U.S. in 2017,” said Corey McCann, MD, PhD, President and CEO of Pear Therapeutics, in the press release following receiving FDA approval. “There is an urgent need for new and innovative therapeutics to address this public health epidemic. This groundbreaking decision by the FDA ushers in a new standard for treating patients with Opioid Use Disorder and it signals a new path for therapeutic software to be used in conjunction with pharmacotherapy to improve efficacy.”
Cycles is a birth control app created by a Sweden-based company of the same
name. It was approved by the FDA in 2018. This mobile app helps women track
their fertility to prevent unwanted pregnancies via the rhythm method. The app
analyzes data from past menstrual cycles and body temperature readings to
determine when the user is most fertile. On the days the user is most likely to
be ovulating, the app displays “Use Protection” on the mobile device’s screen.
“We know that women are more likely to use contraceptive methods when they have a variety of methods available to them, and the reality is that not every method is going to work for every woman,” Rebecca Simmons, PhD, Research Assistant Professor, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Utah, told Health. “This is really exciting, in the sense that the more methods we have, the more likely it is that people can find something that works for them—and then can avoid unwanted pregnancy.”
Apple, headquartered in Cupertino, Calif., received FDA clearance in 2018 for an electrocardiogram (ECG) app for its Apple Watch Series 4 that allows users to take an ECG from their wrist to detect irregular heart rhythms and atrial fibrillation (AFIB).
“The role that technology plays in allowing patients to capture meaningful data about what’s happening with their heart—at the moment when it’s happening, like the functionality of an on-demand ECG—could be significant in new clinical care models and shared decision-making between people and their healthcare providers,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, in a press release.
Patients, Providers, and Big Pharma All Like Digital
There is some evidence that patients and healthcare
providers are intrigued and willing to try digital therapeutics. In a PwC HRI survey,
more than 50% of respondents said they “would be somewhat or very likely to try
an FDA-approved app or online tool for treatment of a medical condition.”
Pharmaceutical companies also are interested in digital therapeutics. A 2018 PwC HRI survey found that 80% of pharmaceutical executives had plans to invest in digital therapeutics in the near future.
With precision medicine and pharmacogenetics, clinical laboratories
could play an essential role in supporting digital therapeutics in the future. But
to truly be competitive in this space and take advantage of the opportunity, medical
laboratories will need to increase their information technology and digital