Best Practices for Working With Pharmaceutical Distributors: Q&A With Joan Eliasek of McKesson Medical-Surgical

Joan Eliasek is senior vice president of marketing and supplier management with McKesson Medical-Surgical, a subsidiary of McKesson Corp., one of the nation's largest pharmaceutical distributors.


Q: What do you recommend ambulatory surgery centers do to ensure they have a stable supply of pharmaceuticals?


Joan Eliasek: 2010 was an unprecedented year for pharmaceutical supplier challenges with propofol manufacturers temporarily halting production. Market-wide shortages and record manufacturer backorders of controlled substances were experienced nationwide.


But already in 2011 we are beginning to see a light at the end of the tunnel. The majority of the controlled substance backorders have been resolved and propofol manufacturer Hospira is reentering the market, which should help in meeting surgical demands.


To ensure the best opportunity for supply in the event of another market-wide shortage, surgery centers should talk to their Rx provider about three issues:

  1. Does the distributor offer a diverse portfolio of therapeutically equivalent products?[1]
  2. What dedicated resources are available to help ASCs work through any current backorders?
  3. What is the most effective way to communicate with representation and customer service to help them find available alternatives?


Q: What steps can a surgery center take to more efficiently interact with their distributor?


JE: First of all, you want to work with a distributor who is willing to meet your requirements, such as the flexibility to receive product any day of the week in a unit of measure that makes sense for your facility.


Second, utilize technology options available from your distributor. Most distributors will have a broad range of products available through their website. To speed the ordering process for commonly purchased items, utilize customizable order guides. Some distributors even offer barcode reading scanning technology to help you order and manage your inventory. The ability to quickly scan a barcode, enter the quantity and send the order can save significant time and greatly reduce errors. Barcode systems are advancing, and there are now some that assist in taking physical inventory, setting par levels and generating order reminders when levels get low.


And third, look to reduce the number of orders by consolidating your Rx purchases with your med-surg purchases. This will further reduce staff time.


A limited number of distributors now offer the ability to order controlled substances online without the hassles and delays associated with paper DEA form 222. The DEA refers to such solutions as CSOS (Controlled Substance Ordering System). CSOS subscribers can see benefits including online ordering of Class IIs, faster transactions, a decrease in ordering errors and lower transaction costs.


Q: What can a distributor do to help reduce costs in my Rx spend?


JE: There are two areas of potential hard-cost savings when it comes to Rx: generics and group purchasing organizations (GPOs). Your Rx provider should carry a comprehensive portfolio of generic options and provide the tools and resources to help you identify these opportunities. In addition, belonging to the right GPO for your Rx business can also help you save money. Your distributor should have access to a broad range of GPO options and work with you to determine the best fit for your facility.


Q: If I am setting up a new facility, what can a distributor do to help me through this process?


JE: There are many tough decisions to be made when opening a new facility. Ordering your supplies shouldn't be one of them.


Representation is key to making the experience easier. Work with your distributor to secure a local account manager who can help you navigate through the setup process. Typically your distributor representative can provide you with product formularies of not only the Rx items you need, but also the med-surg supplies and equipment your facility requires to get started.


Also, working with a distributor that provides a dedicated team that can manage your orders and stage the products for a single delivery when you are ready to move in can prevent a lot of headaches.


Learn more about McKesson Medical-Surgical.



[1] "Therapeutic equivalence" is determined by the FDA. Please see full product inserts for prescribing information and refer to the Orange Book rating to confirm bioequivalency of generic equivalents.

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