Drug use, Distribution Among Members of OptumRx

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Sumit Dutta, MD, MBA, of OptumRx, talks to MHE about drug use among Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic and about vaccine distribution to its members in this part two of a two-part video interview series.

Q: The post office has been a source of instability in a rather unstable time in general. So did you change how you got that medication delivered to people's homes as a result of concerns about the capacity of the post office?

A: So we certainly discussed it in the early days. And we discussed it really in two ways: one is relative to mail and postal service and delivery and logistically the options around that, and geographic differences, because one might like to think that it's a national problem. But really, it might be limited to one community versus another. So a very operational and granular approach is taken to make sure that's managed from a logistics point of view.

But I think, in addition to that, we thought about retail and mail in the same setting, and because if you were, let's say in a stay-at-home order, you couldn't go to your retail pharmacy. And at the beginning, if we again reflect back to the beginning of this, many of them were closed, whether it be the social unrest that happened or the early days of stay-at-home order, you couldn't even go to the retail pharmacy to get it.

So what we did there in terms of change, we moved very quickly. Another area that I'm quite proud of, is we removed any refill too soon - requirements that may have prevented someone from getting an extra script. And we did it through a system change. So you didn't have to call in the early days. The call volumes were really high. We wanted to avoid that disruption for the members so they could get an extra prescription and have it on hand. And so we changed the policy, we informed our members and a number of members were able to then have extra supply, which then mitigated some of the issues that you raised around how long it would take for a medicine to come in terms of home infusion and the increased use of home infusion.

Q: Have you seen any sort of increase in the number of prescriptions for antidepressants or anti anxiety drugs that would reflect be a data point that would verify this concern that people have about the effects of the pandemic?

A: What we've seen is anti-depressants are up over 10%. So to your point, people are feeling the effects of this pandemic, the stress of the pandemic, the economic toll that many of our fellow Americans are experiencing. And being empathic, cognizant, and then having resources to help, again is, it's a privilege to be in a position to be able to do that.

Q: What two or three things you see as having sort of staying power, where you discovered something about the way your business works that is going to continue, even as life returns to a new normal?

A: Well, I think we should start by this, we're having this conversation in a way that most likely would have been in person before. And I can tell you as we end 2020, versus when we began, that the connection that I can develop with you, in this way, is much better and deeper than than I thought it could ever be. And that's directly applicable to how we serve our patients.

As organizations increasingly have taken to resources that do not require face-to-face, interaction that's aligned with how we've invested in the business, and the capabilities we've developed, specifically digital capabilities, around getting information around price of drugs, being able to order drugs, and also offering services that are not necessarily just prescription drugs, but adjacent needs to our optimum store, those are all capabilities that are important.