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Robots, Biologics, and Advocates: Lessons from the Pharmacy

February 2, 2023
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Andre Harvin, Pharm D, MS, MBA, is the executive director of pharmacy at Cone Health Cancer Center. During his residency program at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – The James, Dr. Harvin contributed to launching its Cancer Treatment and Research Center. “That is what started my passion with oncology care and understanding the complexity of it,” Dr. Harvin said. “More so than anything else, it helped me understand how pharmacy fits into the world of oncology.” Since, Dr. Harvin has optimized the pharmaceutical practices at Cone Health Cancer Center in Greensboro, N.C.

Dr. Harvin will share his knowledge of and strategies for enhancing any cancer program or practice’s oncology pharmacy, including how to achieve cost-saving efficiencies and improve the patient experience, at the Association of Community Cancer Centers (ACCC) 49th Annual Meeting & Cancer Business Summit (AMCCBS) on Friday, March 10. The conference will be held from March 8 to 10 at the Capital Hilton in D.C., where ACCC will offer healthcare leaders the opportunity to explore the convergence of business, policy, and technology in cancer care.

ACCCBuzz spoke with Dr. Harvin to learn more about his upcoming AMCCBS keynote.

ACCCBuzz: How has Cone Health Cancer Center utilized robotics in the pharmacy?

Dr. Harvin: Several years ago, we looked at the different automation vendors that were out there. We asked the question: ‘Is there a better way to do this? Is there a better way we can spend our pharmacist’s time?’ We settled on the vendor that we work with now, and we currently have two robots in our pharmacy that help with the compounding of medication. It really has changed our distribution approach.

In previous times, a pharmacist would have to gown up, go into the clean room, and look at the pharmacy technician as they are injecting the medication. That is the safest approach. Now, we have robots.

ACCCBuzz: What benefits does including a robotic pharmacist have for a cancer program or practice?

Dr. Harvin: It really pulls the pharmacist completely out of that process. It frees up people at the cancer center, who are busy or experiencing additional phone calls, so they do not have to worry as much about production because they have other people leveraging technology, leveraging those robotics, to help them.

Now, I can have that pharmacist focusing on what they do that is unique, and that is being a drug expert who can answer questions for providers and patients.

ACCCBuzz: What can AMCCBS attendees expect to learn from your keynote session?

Dr. Harvin: I am going to talk about some of the unique things that we at Cone Health Cancer Center have within our electronic health record and how we have seen differences between doing things manually and doing some things that push the boundaries—that are a little bit cutting edge.

In that, we have sustained growth of between six percent to eight percent in our patient volume per year over the last four years, and yet we have not had to add any additional full-time employees. We have done that by becoming more efficient. We were also able to flex people out of operations and into a more clinical-facing role so that we can add additional functionality and value that we weren’t able to do before as a pharmacy team. We did that by staying FTE [full-time equivalent] neutral and completely leveraging technology.

I am also going to talk about the challenges that I am sure a lot of institutions are going through right now. Rising drug costs, patient access issues, employee turnover and health disparity issues are just some of those challenges. 

ACCCBuzz: Why should attendees come to your session? 

Dr. Harvin: We did not figure all these things out in a bubble; we are a community. Emphasizing that point is one of the great things that my presentation does, and I am hoping that people see some of the things that we have done. Then they can go back to their teams and ask, ‘Can we do it, too?’ I am also hoping that there are some people in the audience who are a level above this and can provide solutions that we can adopt.

For me, this is an opportunity to share strong practices because we are all looking for the same thing at the end of the day—quality of care and a sustainable business model. Collaborating, talking to each other, and sharing our practices more are going to help all of us elevate the care that we provide to patients with cancer. That is what this session is all about.

Register to attend the ACCC 49th Annual Meeting and Cancer Center Business Summit from March 8 to 9 in D.C. to learn how Cone Health Cancer Center has leveraged robotics in its oncology pharmacy, freeing up pharmacists’ time to better help patients and providers. Additional conference sessions will feature a keynote address from Dr. Kevin Davies on the CRISPR revolution, an update on the Cancer Moonshot, and many interactive and facilitated workshops covering topics across the cancer care landscape (e.g., precision medicine, patient engagement, care delivery models, artificial intelligence, and more).

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