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Why Your Health System Needs a Chief Pharmacy Officer

Analysis  |  By Christopher Cheney  
   January 28, 2019

CPOs impact health systems on several crucial fronts, including patient safety, cost containment, and standardization.

Chief pharmacy officers play a leadership role in key areas for health systems such as standardization, says the new CPO at West Virginia University Health System.

Pharmacy is a critical component of an integrated health system, with significant financial and clinical considerations. Financially, medication costs are rising, and precision medicine is likely to extend that burden. Clinically, medications are often pivotal to achieving good outcomes, but they pose patient safety risks.

Todd Karpinski, PHARMD, is set to join WVU Medicine in Morgantown on Feb. 18. CPO is a newly created position at the health system.

He is currently national director of ambulatory pharmacy at The Resource Group—a business consulting division of St. Louis-based Ascension Healthcare.

HealthLeaders recently spoke with Karpinski about the CPO role. Following is a lightly edited transcript of that conversation.

HL: What are the key responsibilities of a CPO?

Karpinski: The role of the chief pharmacy officer has evolved over the past five to 10 years as health systems have come together, merged, and acquired new facilities. There has been a strong push around standardization of medication processing across all of a health system's sites.

It’s the primary responsibility of the chief pharmacy officer to help lead the strategy and effort to bring the facilities together and standardize how medications are being used, what types of medications are being purchased, and how we are ensuring safe medication practices across all facilities.

A growing concern we see in healthcare is rising costs of drugs. It's imperative for chief pharmacy officers to work with physicians and clinicians to ensure that we are using the most cost-effective medications while targeting good clinical outcomes.

HL: How can CPOs manage standardization processes?

Karpinski: From a safety standpoint, there are key recommendations from the Institute for Safe Medication Practices to prevent patient harm. You need to implement all of those recommendations.

In pharmacy operations, we try to reduce waste utilizing lean methodologies to reduce variation and decrease waste. In using lean, you also improve quality and safety. You look methodically at how every piece of pharmacy operates and apply lean principles to get the most efficient operation possible. Standardizing our processes helps keep our patients safe.

HL: How does having a CPO benefit a health system?

Karpinski: Each hospital tends to have a director of pharmacy who traditionally has reported to a vice president or the chief operating officer. The goal for each individual pharmacy may or may not be aligned with the overarching goals of the health system and achievement of quality outcomes, clinical outcomes, and finance outcomes.

It's imperative to have one individual in an executive pharmacist role to bring the directors together to make sure that everyone is pulling in the same direction.

The chief pharmacy officer is now considered an executive leadership position, so you are at the table with the CEO, COO, CFO, chief nursing officer, and chief medical officer to help set strategy for the health system, particularly for how medications are going to be utilized to promote good outcomes for patients.

HL: How does a CPO add value to the C-Suite?

Karpinski: Number One, you get to be part of setting the overall strategy for the organization. You get to hear the key concerns that other executives are facing, and you can work with them to develop strategies as pharmacists to meet their goals or to alleviate some of their anxieties. You can work with the CFO on how much money is being spent on medication and revenue opportunities with the growth of specialty pharmacies, creating your own pharmacy benefit manager capability, and development of retail pharmacies.

Secondly, reporting directly to the CEO puts the chief pharmacy officer in a top-level position within the organization, which hopefully removes barriers to getting things done, when you work through several executives.

Christopher Cheney is the senior clinical care​ editor at HealthLeaders.


Chief pharmacy officers can address clinical and financial imperatives.

Key responsibilities of CPOs include standardizing medication processing and unifying hospital pharmacy directors.

CPOs participate in setting overall strategy for health systems.

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