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Latest news and updates about the Medicare and pharmacy industries.

Five Pharmacy Trends to Watch in 2020

Posted on January 8, 2020 by Amplicare Team

Last year was an eventful one for the pharmacy industry — DIR reform was a hotly debated topic of conversation, the first federal trials in the opioid crisis began, and guidelines such as the USP <800> took effect and continued to change up the landscape. As we look ahead to what 2020 will bring, here are five pharmacy trends we believe pharmacists should keep an eye on this year.

1. Compliance packaging:

Also known as adherence or convenience packaging, compliance packaging involves portioning patients’ medications into blister packs according to the time or day they should be taken. Compliance packaging in pharmacies has been around for a few years, but we expect this practice to become more commonplace as online pharmacies such as Amazon PillPack partner with insurers and establish themselves more firmly in the healthcare market. This increased competition puts more pressure on pharmacies to retain patients. Offering a compliance packaging service makes it easier for patients, particularly those on multiple medications, to keep track of their doses and remain adherent to their regimen and loyal to their pharmacy. 

2. Independent pharmacies in preferred networks:

In 2020, fewer independent pharmacies will participate in preferred pharmacy networks. Patients often pay lower copays for their medications when they use a pharmacy that is preferred by their insurance plan. However, many independents are turning away from these networks due to reimbursements. As a result, independent pharmacies will have to put a higher emphasis on service as a differentiating factor in order to keep their patients this year. It is also worth noting that the copays a patient pays for using a non-preferred pharmacy are not always higher or significantly higher than using a preferred pharmacy. Pharmacists can use Amplicare of Medicare.gov to compare a patient’s copay at a preferred pharmacy to determine the cost difference so patients are well informed. 

3. CBD regulations:

CBD and hemp-derived wellness products hit a high in 2019 with growth predictions and new studies released. According to one projection, the CBD market should hit $16 billion by 2025. A couple of studies suggested that CBD may be an effective treatment for opioid addiction and could help improve quality of life. The adoption rate of CBD is high among independent pharmacists, some of whom have had significant success offering these products and educating patients about them. But not every state is sold on CBD in pharmacies. This year, we expect increased regulations and more FDA guidelines to be released, which will help give more confidence to pharmacies interested in carrying CBD products. 

4. Expanding clinical services:

Prescriptions remain a significant source of revenue for pharmacies, but many do have alternative sources of revenue to boost their bottom lines. In most states, pharmacists are classified as providers, which allows them to provide clinical services to patients. As 2020 goes on, this trend will continue as pharmacists expand the services they provide, from immunizations to diabetes counseling to pharmacogenetic testing. Doing this will help to further cement the pharmacist’s role as an important part of a patient’s healthcare team. 

5. Pharmacy shortages:

Another pharmacy trend to watch is the increase of pharmacy deserts across the country. According to an October 2019 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, one in eight U.S. pharmacies — a majority of which were independents serving low-income neighborhoods — closed down between 2009 and 2015. In 2019, independent and chain pharmacies saw their fair share of closures with Walgreens and CVS among companies shuttering multiple locations. Unfortunately, these closures have created pharmacy deserts in many areas where patients no longer have access to physical pharmacies and OTC medications. This trend is likely to continue through 2020, particularly as pharmacies face higher DIR fees this summer and increased competition. While not ideal, it creates an opportunity for certain pharmacies to consider rural contracts which are available through PBMs if they find they are the sole pharmacy within a minimum of 30 miles (this varies by PBM). There’s also the opportunity to merge with another pharmacy to increase profitability. 

There is still a lot more to expect from the industry and other areas that promise change, whether in the areas of virtual healthcare or public policy. But the five pharmacy trends above are worth watching closely as the year goes on.

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