PipelineRx is a telepharmacy company offering remote and SaaS pharmacy services to rural hospitals, as well as larger integrated delivery networks (IDNs). For smaller hospitals, PipelineRx offers 24/7 staffing during nights and weekends, verifying medication orders remotely to promote patient safety. The SaaS technology platform allows larger IDNs to essentially create their own telepharmacy, using one of their own pharmacists to staff additional locations.
CEO Brian Roberts has spent most of his career focused on healthcare services and staffing. Prior to co-founding PipelineRx, he was the president of Canopy Healthcare until it was acquired in late 2008. Canopy Healthcare was the leading allied healthcare staffing firm on the West Coast. Prior to Canopy Healthcare, Roberts was the EVP of business development at CHG Healthcare Services, a $600 million leader in diversified healthcare staffing which supplied physicians, pharmacists, nurses, and allied healthcare professionals to hospitals nationwide.
Here, Roberts discusses his firm and its capabilities, technology developments he’s seeing, telemedicine challenges and trends we’ll see in the coming year.
Tell me more about yourself and what inspired you to found PipelineRx?
I spent the first half of my career as a venture capitalist investing in early stage healthcare services and healthcare IT companies. I spent the second half of my career building companies from the ground up as an entrepreneur. I love the operations and technologies that are critical for building a sustainable business model. After building two successful medical staffing companies, I figured out that we could “staff” hospitals using remote pharmacists that work from home. The labor arbitrage of enabling one pharmacist to work on multiple hospitals drove on average a three to one return for hospitals. This all was enabled by creating a technology that allowed interchange between PipelineRX and hospital pharmacy information systems and EHRs.
We now have an amazing management team bringing more than 100 years of experience in building pharmacy technology companies.
Tell me more about your desire to lead a telepharmacy company? Who uses this service? How is it growing and how has it changed?
Leading PipelineRx is exhilarating each and every day. Overcoming challenges are what makes it interesting and trying to apply cloud based technology to a service that must be completed (pharmacy verification services).
Hospitals of all sizes use the service. From the small side, critical access hospitals with 25 beds use the service for long stretches, say 6 p.m. to – 6 a.m. and 24 hours on the weekends. Our service allows them to save significant costs yet have world class medical coverage of their hospital. We can also fill in if an employee pharmacist calls in sick or if there is a big snow storm and the employee pharmacist can’t make it to work. We also work with larger hospitals and hospital systems that are looking to optimize their staffing levels. While pharmacies traditionally were staffed like a firehouse with ample coverage, PipelineRx allows the hospital to staff to the median levels and then use our staff for peak or overflow. It’s been an amazing journey to see hospital administrators and C-suite’s understand that we assist in moving traditional fixed costs to variable costs through our unique service.
We are growing each day as the business model becomes accepted. More states are adopting laws and regulations to allow for telepharmacy. Our technology and interoperability with hospitals continues to advance each week driving more opportunities to save costs and improve clinical care.
Our business model continues to allow great pharmacists the ability to work remotely. The technology enables a new flexible workforce to be leveraged into the hospital sector. Pharmacists love working for PipelineRx as it is one the “purest forms of practicing their craft.”
What technology advancements allow you to service two different audiences (the rural hospital and the IDN)? How do the two users differ in terms of features?
The technology allows for interoperability and is agnostic to interacting with all HIS systems. Our cloud based operating systems work in all hospital environments from small 25 bed hospitals to large IDNs with 100+ sites.
We recently release our SaaS products, which essentially allows an IDN to build a telepharmacy organization within the IDN utilizing their own pharmacists. By centralizing medication order entry, the hospital is able to free up pharmacy resources to deploy against value added projects and programs. The early signs are that the ROI is more than 20 times.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing telemedicine in 2015? Biggest opportunities?
The biggest challenges facing telemedicine are finding tangible business models with real ROIs and reimbursement. Telepharmacy is multi-billion dollar market with real impact to hospital operations and profits. While many telemedicine services are trying to figure out re-imbursement or how to monetize the consumer, PipelineRx focuses on improving workflow and patient safety/satisfaction which drives returns for hospitals.
I think telemedicine is in the first inning. For us, we are focusing our efforts on the hospitals and IDNs. Ultimately, where there is a need for a reviewed prescription, our business model can be applied. Nursing homes, homecare, prison systems, retail settings, are all opportunities for telepharmacy.
What is the next step for PipelineRx and how has it evolved from what it was when it started? Where do you think the bulk of efforts should be applied?
PipelineRx will continue to serve the hospital sector with its telepharmacy services as well as its SaaS platform. In the future and ultimately, it will be the decision of the customer to where the flexible labor will be driven (via Pipeline pharmacists, via internal pharmacists, or a hybrid). It will essentially be an efficient marketplace for pharmacy services enabled by a software platform that intelligently routes clinical orders to the right pharmacist for review. Our customers are excited to see what each new release brings to the table. I also think that the industry will see more interaction with consumers in the post discharge environment, allowing the service to follow the patient into the care continuum and make sure they are taking their medications and answering any questions or side effects.
How is telepharmacy viewed by regulatory bodies such as the Joint Commission and State Boards?
Telepharmacy is overseen by the state boards. We work closely with each board to make sure they are educated on the latest business models and that the hospitals are in compliance. The Joint Commission and other accreditation bodies support telepharmacy and remote order entry because it offers another layer of support in making sure that all medication orders are delivered to the right patient, with the right dose, at the right time. Pipeline has an intervention rate of 5 percent, meaning for every 100 medication orders, we are making changes or correcting a potential error. This service not only improves workflow and reduces costs, but the clinical savings often are the greatest impact.