October 21, 2016


Mail-Order Refill Champions Keep KP Pharmacies on Top

Cassandra Culpepper, a pharmacy tech and UFCW Local 324 member at the Central Refill Pharmancy in Downey, CA, helps make KP's mail-order refill system running smoothly

Kaiser Permanente’s mail-order pharmacies are a huge hit with health plan members—and the unit-based team at one Southern California hospital is part of the reason why.

For the fourth straight year, Kaiser Permanente’s mail-order pharmacy was ranked highest in customer satisfaction by the market research firm J.D. Power and Associates in a study released in October 2012. At the Panorama City 24-hour pharmacy, UBT members have worked together to increase the number of patients who order their prescriptions by mail.  For example, in the year between August 2011 and 2012, the number of mail-order prescriptions at Panorama City went up 3.4 percentage points, the greatest improvement in the region.

“A key strategy is educating patients about their own mail benefit,” says management co-lead Arelys Goodrich, the outpatient pharmacy’s supervisor. Most KP plans offer an incentive for using mail order; shipping is free and medications can be ordered by phone or on kp.org, Goodrich points out. Patients don’t have to make a special trip to the pharmacy, which saves them time and gas.

“Patients love to save money,” adds pharmacy technician Bernice Martinez, the UBT’s labor co-lead and a member of UFCW Local 770. Filling prescriptions by mail not only benefits cost-conscious patients, it also saves KP money and contributes to clinical quality. A study by KP’s Division of Research suggests that patients who use the mail-order pharmacy are more likely to adhere to their providers’ instructions on taking medications simply because it’s easier to get what they need.

Members of the Panorama City pharmacy team promote the mail-order options by wearing T-shirts that they designed reading “Mail it, Ask me how” (the “m” looks like an envelope, and the “I” mimics a capsule). The smart black T-shirts are worn by pharmacy colleagues all over the region. If a patient comes to the pharmacy and doesn’t have enough pills to last until a mail-order shipment arrives, staff members will fill a holdover prescription. They also hold a friendly competition among staff to reward those who sign up the most patients on kp.org.

Focusing on patient concerns helps motivate the team to encourage mail-order refills, Goodrich adds. “All of our [health plan] members are struggling financially,” she says. “The staff finds it rewarding when we can do anything to help.”

Better Quality Control and Service

In addition to boosting mail-order refills, the UBT also has improved quality control. The team greatly improved the percentage of prescriptions scanned to double check the National Drug Code, a crucial patient safety effort that ensures the right drug is being dispensed to the right patient.  It ran several small tests of change between February and October 2010, such as consistently changing the batteries in the scanners every night and discussing metrics at staff meetings. The team has sustained its strong results since then.

And, thanks to the UBT’s efforts, the hospital now has a dedicated discharge window at the hospital’s 24-hour pharmacy. The team wanted to reduce the number of patients who go home from the hospital without their prescriptions—which sometimes leads to costly hospital readmissions. By designating a special window for discharged patients and attaching a bright pink card to prescription labels as they move through the system, the team almost doubled the percent of medications ready for patient pickup--from 37 percent in September 2011 to 72 percent in December 2011.

Labor co-lead Martinez credits the department’s suggestion box for spurring improvement ideas. “People like to be anonymous,” she says, adding that union members often will come to her or other members of the UBT’s representative group with idea and challenges.

“When you get the staff involved you get more positive outcomes,” says management co-lead Goodrich. “People feel that their opinions matter.”