menu toggle

What matters most: Building meaningful distribution partnerships

By Specialty Physician Services

We recently sat down with Kathy Oubre, Chief Executive Officer of Pontchartrain Cancer Center (PCC), to discuss her opinion on what matters most in community care.
doctor-patient what matters

Oubre has been the CEO for PCC since September 2005. In this role, she provides non-clinical leadership for all aspects of the practice, including financial counseling, policy and procedure development, billing, nutrition programs and survivorship care. She also serves on the board of the Community Oncology Alliance (COA), is the chair for the Oncology Institute with NCODA and is active with several editorial boards.

Pontchartrain Cancer Center has been an AmerisourceBergen Specialty GPOs member and specialty distribution customer for over 17 years. Located in Southeast Louisiana, PCC specializes in providing access to high-quality cancer care to patients in their community through personalized treatment options and clinical trials.

Q: At AmerisourceBergen, it's valuable for us to know the voice of the customer, and we really want to know what matters to you. What is it that matters most to you?

Kathy Oubre: 
At the end of the day, what matters most to us boils down to relationships. It is why we chose Oncology Supply and AmerisourceBergen Specialty GPOs 17 years ago. Our relationship with AmerisourceBergen is one of the longest working relationships we’ve had, and I'd like it to stay that way for years to come.

In a distribution partner, what matters is trusting that they truly understand our pain points. I know I’m able to text AmerisourceBergen leaders and get a quick response, despite how incredibly busy we all are. In an emergency, I appreciate the ability to email my account manager around-the-clock because I need an answer to a particular drug class when we're doing in-office dispensing. These are relationships that go beyond partnership.

The patients and our ability to deliver high-quality care is why we all get out of bed in the morning. It's clear to me that this matters to you just as much as it matters to us, and that has value—that keeps us where we are. 

Q: It's often been said that solidarity really matters in our industry. Having a united business model that reflects the partnership between our Specialty GPOs and distributors is one example of why solidarity means a lot to us. Tell me about your thoughts around that, what does that mean to you in your practice?

Kathy Oubre:
Solidarity is about the relationships and it's really nothing past that. For example, we deal with hurricanes which can impact our ability to deliver care. AmerisourceBergen’s willingness to work with us and be creative and unique in those moments has helped us not to miss a beat. We’ve been down for a week because we had no running water and electricity, but Oncology Supply was there (more than once) getting our drugs to us as soon as we could open. After Katrina, I remember driving to Baton Rouge and meeting the FedEx planes. Even 17 years ago, it was your mission to get us the drugs we needed for the patients that we all serve and it’s the same today. That commitment is what you can't replace. 

Q: If we are innovating, we're bringing new concepts to market. But what role does innovation play in your decision making when you're looking at a strategic partner?

Kathy Oubre: Innovation is very important for our practice. Innovation comes in the form of insightful analysis of data and reports from the solutions AmerisourceBergen provides for our practice. That allows us to expand services for our patients and take better care of our employees. I would be remiss if I didn't call out InfoDive®, because that's an amazing piece of technology. With the business coaches, the partnerships and the analytics, that's amazing stuff. It allows us to uncover or point out issues and opportunities in real time. I don't have the bandwidth to do this myself, so that is by far the best investment for our practice.

Q: What does value mean to you and your practice when you make decisions around partners?

Kathy Oubre:
Well, a transactional relationship with a partner has little value to me. The value is in the ability to create mutual and meaningful relationships. Your GPO team works hand in hand with us to understand our needs and then takes that knowledge to the manufacturers so we have competitive contracts that make sense for our practice and our payers. Value also comes when we partner to create relevant education, like developing a podcast around biosimilars.

But value is also having a partner that offers guidance on topics such as reimbursement trends and policy, while taking the time to explain how our practice could be impacted. This partnership approach has helped our practice for 17 years—it helped me, and ultimately it helps all of us, so thank you.

Value is your agility. We did not know what the COVID-19 pandemic was going to bring to our practices or our patients. I remember calling one of your team members because we had only one box of masks left in the practice. I was panicked, we were going to have to close because we didn't know how to stay safe. That same team member was able to deliver the package a day later. It was just a box of masks, but it's a symbol of so much more. Again, it's those types of relationships: the ones that go above and beyond.

Part of that value can be attributed to customer service. With an automated system, the relationship becomes transactional. I like that I can reach someone at AmerisourceBergen who is responsive, calm, and excels at problem solving.

Q: Is there anything that AmerisourceBergen could do differently to improve upon our current offerings?

Kathy Oubre: 
I would say it's really important for all of your team to be well-versed in government affairs and the payer landscape, because those are typical challenges we face in community care. It’s important to have a working knowledge of a practice’s payer dynamics so that you understand the specifics – for example, that a certain payer is splitting me three different ways on my formulary management or value-based care. And that changes constantly with government reimbursement programs.

There are 31 states right now with copay accumulator bans. Those kinds of things impact us, and most importantly, our patients. It’s important for everyone to get involved and advocate. Talk to your practices about how to become advocates, and how to share patient stories because that is meaningful and important for our legislators to know.

We have passion for what we do, and we feel the passion for what you do—and it feels like we are stronger because we are doing those things together to ultimately provide the highest quality care possible to patients in our community. That’s the greatest value.