Physician Practices Post-Pandemic: Q&A with Jenny Sherak, AmerisourceBergen

Jenny Sherak, SVP & President of Specialty Physician Services at AmerisourceBergen, talks to Pharm Exec about how the needs of physician practices have evolved in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and what is required to navigate the shifting healthcare landscape.

Pharm Exec: Please introduce yourself and talk about your current role at AmerisourceBergen

Jenny Sherak: As SVP & President of Specialty Physician Services, I’m focused on driving the strategic direction of AmerisourceBergen’s services for specialty physician practices, which range from oncology, neurology, and rheumatology to ophthalmology, gastroenterology, and other specialties. Every day, we optimize the value we deliver to this customer base while developing and executing novel technology solutions and programs to benefit practices and patients.

Previously, I served as the Global Head of Oncology Pipeline Commercialization and Business Development at Takeda Pharmaceuticals. In this role, I was responsible for defining long and short-term growth strategies for the oncology business unit. I worked to ensure continued business growth by maximizing the innovative global immuno-oncology pipeline while leveraging external collaborations, mergers, and acquisitions.

I have spent my career helping to fuel the pipeline of new oncology products, particularly those that could be used in the community setting, and now, I am excited to deliver these—and other—specialty products into the hands of community physicians, so more patients ultimately have access to life-improving or saving therapies. One of the things my experience has shown me is just how critical that connection between the pharmaceutical manufacturer or developer and the community physician is. I’ve seen first-hand how complex both sides of the relationship are, and now, I have the opportunity to help bring those two worlds together as successfully as possible and collaborate with our partners to move health forward.

How would you describe your approach to customer relationships?

To me, it’s all about creating partnerships built on mutual respect, trust, communication, and the right support. The pharmaceutical products that we deliver to physician practices treat complex diseases, and these therapies can be expensive and fragile. We know how important it is to get the right product to the right customer at the right time because a human life is expecting and often depending on it. It’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly—I believe in being dependable out of respect for what our customers do and what patients are going through. At the same time, it’s extremely important to me to deeply listen to our customers and hear what is hard for them. We challenge ourselves to think creatively and be their partner in order to make their jobs easier. It’s not about just dropping off the drug—but how else can we help identify the right patient, ensure the practice can receive and administer the therapeutic, ensure reimbursement and help the patient get connected with financial assistance. I believe that, in a partnership, we should be asking ourselves—every single day—what else? What more can we be doing?

How have the needs of physician practices evolved in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Within the first months of the pandemic’s “stay at home” orders, community-based physicians saw a 40 percent drop in new patient visits as well as a 100 percent increase in cancellations and no-shows.Lower patient volumes created new financial constraints for these providers, and as a result, fifty percent of private practices had to furlough office staff.

Despite the uncertainty, our physician practice customers adapted and moved really quickly to adjust business operations to meet patients where they felt most comfortable, whether that was implementing telehealth capabilities, revising the office workflow to accommodate patients in a socially distant way, conducting clinics at local frontline businesses, and more. After 15 months, we are seeing our oncology practice customers, along with all specialties, return to “normal” or “pre-COVID” patient volumes, which is encouraging on many levels.

This return of patients to our physician practices also has implications for our pharma partners. In fact, I believe one of the most critical services AmerisourceBergen Specialty Division provides is using our sophisticated analytics and algorithms to monitor the types of patients coming into the practices we serve and helping to identify spikes in particular product needs. Not only does this data allow us to help physician practices best navigate inventory management, reimbursement needs, and changing workflows but also, we seamlessly turn that data into a resource that helps our pharma and biotech partners better manage their supply chain.

What services and solutions have proven the most valuable for practices amid the shifting healthcare landscape?

At AmerisourceBergen, our solutions for specialty physician offices connect practices with products, technology, and insights that aim to maximize efficiency and elevate the patient experience, allowing physicians to focus on patient care. Our technology solutions and consulting expertise help practices optimize all aspects of their business—from workflow management to financial operations.

Given all of the changes that practices have navigated over the last year, and continue to experience, we have seen an increased reliance on their partners, and chief among those is their GPO. We work closely with practices to ensure they have access to the most advanced therapies at competitive contract rates, but our work extends beyond that. Our experts take pride in helping member practices tap the potential within their business and support their patients, which includes gaining access to clinical trials, navigating reimbursement, and solving patients’ barriers to care. Our GPOs were created to help community practitioners realize more value on everything from pharmaceutical products to diagnostics to surgical and medical equipment. We partner, on behalf of our customers, with the country's leading pharmaceutical and biotech manufacturers to deliver a range of products at contracted terms, but even further, we’re helping ensure their products are reaching the patients who need them.

In fact, one thing that I’m very passionate about is our ability to support physician practices and implementing precision medicine. As therapies become more tailored to the individual patient, it’s critical that we’re supporting community practices through the implications of these advancements, whether that’s access, workflow, or otherwise. For example, we have new solutions we’ll be rolling out in the near term that help expedite the process to match an individual patient with the right therapy, either on market or in a clinical trial, for their s specific condition and genetic makeup. At the same time, we also offer and continue to develop tools that support adherence strategies from the very onset of therapy, including identifying financial support or co-pay assistance for patients to help make therapies more affordable.

Ultimately, my team’s goal is to connect community practices and pharma companies in a way that supports patient outcomes, product adherence, and long-term success. We strive to create the best possible product access and provide actionable data insights that support our collective understanding of physician and patient needs. We use our expansive global distribution network and extensive industry expertise to simplify and optimize product access while offering expert guidance and GPO contracting to help each practice thrive.

How are you thinking about innovation as it relates to physician practice solutions over the next five years?

With the potential of 40+ groundbreaking cell and gene therapy products approaching FDA-approval by 2024, we are continually looking for innovative ways to successfully support the next wave of therapies and the physicians and patients who will want to access them. Allogeneic therapies have a considerable advantage compared to first generation autologous CAR-T cell therapy and are likely to become more available to physicians and patients with the hope that they will continue to offer many advantages for patients. When healthcare advances, so must the processes to connect patients to the therapies they need.

Innovative delivery systems, like cell and gene therapies, are requiring new levels of coordination, from complex logistics to provider preparation and patient services, to ensure treatment success. They are game-changing therapies, but there are some limitations in that they have to be administered in certified hospital settings. Our job is to support physician run practices, so they are prepared to administer these high-price, advanced therapeutics—and that’s what I’m most excited about. Our experts offer market access, reimbursement, and specific therapeutic area insights to help practices understand the unique market landscape. Not only are we looking at how to ensure our practices are ready for the next wave, logistically and data support-wise, but also from a patient identification standpoint. As we prepare our pharma, biotech, and physician practice partners for a fast-coming future, we are challenging ourselves to think about how we should prepare for this very different reimbursement and payment model. All in all- at AmerisourceBergen’s Specialty Division are about ensuring patients have access to new and innovative life preserving therapies, through their closest provider, at the best price.We strive to ensure people everywhere are living their healthiest possible lives.