Why Price Transparency is Important for Consumers in Veterinary Medicine

Expert Interview

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Jason Reed, PharmD, Senior Director of Product Management at FTB Vella, discusses the importance of drug price transparency for both consumers and veterinarians.

Drug Topics: Hello, my name is Killian Meara, Associate Editor of Drug Topics. I'm here with Jason Reed, Senior Director of Product Management at FTB Vella. Jason, thanks for joining me today.

Jason Reed, PharmD: Thank you. Nice to be here with you.

Drug Topics: Sure, so just like human medications, pet parents need more price transparency for their pet meds. Right now, the consumer experience is limited. Pet parents typically don't shop for pet meds and don't know if they are getting the best price on their pet's medications. Can you just tell me about the current pet parent experience when it comes to medications for their fur kids?

Reed: Absolutely. So, today it's a pretty disjointed process between the vet and the pharmacy. Pet parents are stuck in the middle a lot of times. They are kind of in the go-between with those two entities when the vet is trying to prescribe a medication for their pet to get them through whatever is ailing them. There's a lot of different medications that are used for pets that are used for humans. And so, there's just a lot of confusion most of the time. There's often multiple calls, maybe between the vet and the pharmacy, to either communicate if the medication's available or if it is, maybe to clarify something that was sent over in the prescription, if it was faxed or if it was called in. And the consumers, the pet parents, they really can't use their favorite websites or apps that they typically would go to if they do, in fact, shop around for pricing and those kind of things on their own medications that they may take.

Drug Topics: Do most pet parents know that they can shop around for different medications?

Reed: I think it's kind of hard to say for sure. A general answer, I would say, is probably no, the majority don't. Most consumers know that there are some ways now to get medications at a lower price for themselves, maybe, especially if they talk with their pharmacist or maybe a social worker, someone in the prescriber's office. But pet parents many times are concerned about their pet. They have to deal with getting the pet to and from the vet and then the shopping just kind of becomes an afterthought until, unfortunately, many of them get to the pharmacy counter and then they get the sticker shock of that high price medication potentially or those kind of things. So, I think that with, especially pets being such an integral part of most households, they are like family members, it's very stressful when you need to take care of your pet and your pet is normally the person or not the person, but the thing that makes you feel better, right? And so, when they're sick, that's a very stressful thing. A lot of times the pet parents have to lean on the vet to help them through that, maybe on the pharmacist, if the pharmacist has time to do that on their busy schedule.

Drug Topics: Why has it been so difficult to bring price transparency to veterinary medicine?

Reed: Well, it’s kind of multifaceted. Vet medicine, from a medication prescribing perspective, is way behind human medicine. And what I mean by that is, e-prescribing has kind of been the norm with human medicine since probably 2008, 2010. In fact, today, there's about 36 states that mandate drugs must be e -prescribed when they're prescribed. And that's not possible right now. Vets aren't able to get an identifier that's called a national provider identifier. And so that's required in e -prescriptions today. But that's changing. But right now, it's not possible for them to e-prescribe. So now they're, either sending faxes, they may be just calling medicines in for pets. And the system that the vet uses to manage their office often doesn't talk to a pharmacy system that the pharmacies use to get the data to fill the prescriptions. The connectivity, like I said, leads to faxes and phone calls, and then there are some large pet pharmacies that have come about in the recent years and they're trying to step in and fill the void, and what they often do is they have portals that vets can go into to try to prescribe and whatnot, but that becomes a little bit of a challenge for the vet, because now if there's four or five different pet pharmacies that the pet parent says that they want to go to, or they want to use this one versus that one, it's a different portal login and username to get into that and manage that, and it's not kind of all housed in one system, like most doctors on the human side have today with their electronic health records.

Drug Topics: Why is it so important for consumers to shop around for their prescription prices?

Reed: It’s important because shopping around can save you a lot of money. Even for generic drugs, there can be a large difference in price from pharmacy A to pharmacy B. That becomes important, especially when there's a lot of patients that have trouble paying for their own prescriptions. Then when it's prescription for your pet, it's very expensive, are you going to fill that whole prescription? Are you going to give it to them every day or twice a day like it's prescribed, or are you going to maybe cut back on that a little bit to try to save on the cost? There's also discounts for bulk supplies in some cases that some pharmacies offer, and so, being able to realize that where those discounts and savings can be really important, especially if it's a medication that your pet takes every day. There's also over-the-counter versions of drugs. A lot of medications have been transitioned from prescription to over-the-counter. That can be confusing because then there's brand name and generics of those as well. And sometimes those generic options are cheaper, but pet parents don't always know what's the generic for this drug that might be prescribed. And then finally, discount cards and apps that you can use on your phone help you search for pharmacy prices for various drugs. There's also copay coupons for drugs that are brands that certain manufacturers might provide. So, there's a litany of different things and places that a pet parents might have to check.

Drug Topics: You just touched upon it a little bit there with the apps where people can search around. But how else can we enable consumers to be more informed when it comes to filling their pet prescriptions?

Reed: Yeah. Well, a few things. I think it really starts with that process that the vet is doing, right? The vets want to be able to provide that price transparency to the patients. We didn't really even touch on the fact that some vets still fill scripts for their pet patients, but is that vet able to order the drug in bulk to where they get a lower price sometimes, but not always. And I think the vets are aware of that, plus it takes the vets often quite a bit of time to do that process of filling the scripts for their pet patients. I think that really getting e-prescribing into a vet's office and then allowing some patient decision support through that, so the e -prescribing application might be able to let the vet know that there are different options for the pet parent to go to as far as filling that. And that's really where Vela is trying to step in and bring more transparency to both the vet and the pet parent. It's usually a mutual decision on those kind of things. Being able to have it not only for the consumer in their hand, but then also the vet so they can have that discussion when they're still in the office.

Drug Topics: Do you think now is a good time for this?

Reed: Yeah, great question. We have gone to several veterinary conferences and spoken with vets directly as they walk around on the floor. And they're very excited to have this opportunity to be more of a level playing field with the human counterparts. And ultimately, I think the vets realize that they'll have less administrative tasks to do. A faxing in phone calls is never efficient. There's usually phone trees that they have to go for before they can actually speak to someone at the pharmacy. And then faxes just can get, well, they're not efficient for the pharmacy either because the pharmacies, at least human pharmacies, are used to prescriptions coming into them electronically. And thus, whenever things come in via fax or phone call, they're slower in that process of being able to get those things filled in a time that's appropriate for those patients when they show up to pick that med up. And really the vets, what we heard time and time again, is they want to be able to provide the best care they can. And they want to spend time providing care and not necessarily trying to get a medication prescribed. And so that's really why I think that it is time for this to happen. And really, Vela is passionate about supporting both vets and the patients and allowing them to have some autonomy and be able to decide where they would like to get their prescription filled that works best for them.

Drug Topics: Is there anything else you want to touch upon that we haven't talked about?

Reed: In addition to going to conferences and talking to the vets and stuff like that, we're also, at Vela, we're working with associations like the American Vet Association, the Victus Group, who puts on a large conference called the Western Veterinary Conference along with some others like the New York State Pet Medical Society. We're trying to spread the word about e-prescribing and how these vets can really help their patients, pet parents that is, to get the medications that are going to make their pets back to 100 % and feeling good again. So, like I said before, I think the vets really just want to get more time taking care of their pets and helping their pet parents and that's really where Vela is trying to help in doing that.

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