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McKesson Canada’s president Alain Champagne on the winds of change

0002_Simard_PB Jan 2015_McKesson Q&A
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Alain Champagne came to McKesson Canada nearly five years ago after working with consumer heavyweights Frito Lay Canada and Procter & Gamble. In his roles with these companies, he saw his fair share of change and evolution. Now, as president of McKesson Canada, he is helping to drive McKesson’s operations in pharmaceutical distribution, retail banner management and technology solutions. The pace of change has quickened, but so has he.

By Jane Auster

Photography by David Simard

Does holding a business degree but not a pharmacy degree (or an engineering degree like some other pharmacy executives) give you a unique perspective on the pharmacy industry today and how it is evolving?

Mr. Champagne. I would certainly believe so. It enables me to have a broader perspective on the industry, our own banners, and the required actions on changes in the industry. Also, I surround myself with the right experts, and work closely with our senior leadership team and our customers today.

How has your background in consumer products shaped your approach to pharmacy business?

There are strong correlations. My background offers a unique perspective on the supply chain and the optimal level of quality and efficiency, which is one of McKesson’s points of pride in terms of service level. The main influence (of my background) is the continued focus on customer needs and a concentration on superior patient experience, which is very important in our changing time.

Are all types of pharmacies taking up the challenge of change?

Generally speaking, you still find there is a role for every type of pharmacy out there: the traditional dispensary pharmacy focusing on prescriptions and patient needs, the mid-size pharmacy that covers essentials with an added health & beauty component, and the big box pharmacy store covering the vast array of customer needs. Everyone has a role to play.

The large format pharmacy may be more visible than the others, but I happen to believe that smaller footprint pharmacies will always play a role especially in terms of offering professional services. Independent pharmacies have always been patient-centric.

You have been quoted as saying: “Our portfolio of businesses allows us to solve the significant healthcare challenges we face as a country. We are committed to bringing added-value services and solutions to all our customers and partners with the ultimate goal of improving patient access to care and outcomes.” How are you doing this?

In three ways:

–  We hold a unique position within the industry, working with all the major stakeholders, manufacturers, providers, pharmacies, governments and private payors, in solutions development.

– Our suite of assets and services. We are invested in a number of fronts impacting care, including distribution solutions, specialty services, banner services, technology solutions, and clinical expertise.

– We are increasingly focused on thought leadership and finding new approaches to improving the patient experience. We recently brought together senior leaders around Ontario – a wide array of people from the manufacturer community, provider community, hospital CEOs, smaller providers, trade associations, senior executives from the public and private payor community – for Better Health Toronto, a true cross-sector gathering of different perspectives. All were brainstorming to improve healthcare in Ontario in a type of forum we may roll out to other provinces.

How important are technology solutions to McKesson’s approach and success?

They are key. Here are just two examples:

– The Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness has won two significant awards for its Personal Health Records project, which is powered by RelayHealth, our web-based solution that allows patients to access their own records and be more in charge of their own wellness, with easy tools to take control of their solutions.

– The New Brunswick Pharmaceutical Society granted McKesson Canada – Atlantic Central Fill Pharmacy – its pharmacy licence to optimize the pharmaceutical supply chain with a central fill pharmacy and automated dispensing. The impact will be to reduce expenditures and increase patient safety through better control at the hospital level. It’s the first of its kind and we are seeing a lot of interest from other jurisdictions.

We have also just come out with a medication review app in Alberta, BC, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia that streamlines the pharmacist’s workflow. The Medication Review app allows pharmacists to conduct medication reviews at a pharmacy workstation and on a mobile device, ensuring faster and easier execution, with minimal paperwork.

What changes in pharmacy are driving your business?

Every stakeholder in the healthcare industry is challenged to do more with less and reinvent the business model. We are working closely with our pharmacy partners to help them succeed in our rapidly changing industry. We complement pharmacists in their role as the most accessible and trusted healthcare providers to support them as this role increases.

The biggest opportunity can become the biggest challenge. Expanded scope of practice becomes a challenge if one cannot adapt quickly or well enough.

Unanimously, pharmacists are getting it and are adapting to the new reality. A large number of pharmacies are innovating and thriving. They are nimble, flexible and part of their communities.

What will be the biggest challenges in pharmacy over the next decade?

Increased funding for professional services presents a tremendous opportunity, while  understanding the fact that government needs to deal with their fiscal budgets remains a challenge for the broader industry and an opportunity to collaborate and innovate.

Navigating this with flexibility and adaptability is at the heart of the challenge and the opportunity facing our industry, and this will accelerate over the next few years in terms of patient care and services. The pace of change will accelerate with the introduction of technology at so many different levels and patients increasingly concerned and involved with their healthcare. Five years ago patients certainly had the internet, but now consumers have access to a variety of tools to make controlling their healthcare simple for them.

What have been the biggest changes since you joined McKesson in 2010?

The first day I joined, provincial budgets for healthcare were announced, which included significant price reductions for generic medications. Changes to the cost of drugs are increasing the pressure on industry stakeholders. We are the provider of quality services to well over 7,500 pharmacies across Canada every day. That structure is under pressure when governments cut their healthcare budgets, and no one is truly immune. That is why our aim remains to work on solutions, to stay truly focused on solutions, and remain at the centre of developing innovative solutions in collaboration with industry stakeholders.

What keeps you up at night?

I am very cognizant of the important role we play in Canadian healthcare and take that role very seriously. We are such a central player in providing patient-centred care and solutions.

What keeps me awake is the possibility of government not fully considering the impact on stakeholders and our industry not collaborating enough to tackle the fiscal challenges. I find that government and industry are not coming together enough on solutions to the challenges of healthcare. We will continue to play a role in driving this agenda. That is one of my missions.