In this episode, we talk with Kristin Williams, Executive Vice President and Chief Health Officer of Hy-Vee, Inc and President of Amber Specialty Pharmacy. Kristin shares all kinds of great information about the specialty medication supply chain and the logistics of white-bagging from specialty pharmacies. Her pearls of wisdom on culture, leadership, and patient experience are inspiring.

WeInfuse podcast

Transcript: How to Spend More Time with Patients and Less Time on Logistics

Amanda Brummitt: We Infuse podcast, episode number 57. Welcome to the We Infuse podcast. My name is Amanda Brummett. In every episode, we give you a seat at the table as we talk to Infusion Center owners, operators, and experts so that you can get the insight you need to run a thriving practice. In this episode, we talk with Kristen Williams, Executive Vice President and Chief Health Officer of Hy Vee Incorporated and President of Amber Specialty Pharmacy. Kristen shares. All kinds of great information about limited distribution drugs and the logistics of ordering and her pearls of wisdom on culture, leadership, and patient experience are inspiring. Well, thank you so much for being here with us, Kristen. I am so glad to have you on the show today.

Kristin Williams: Yes. Thank you, Amanda, for having me on today as well.

Amanda Brummitt: Yeah. So I think, some of our listeners may know a little bit about you, but if you’ll just start at the beginning and give us all of your background, I’d love for them to hear that.

Kristin Williams: Great. I’m the president of Amber Specialty Pharmacy, which is a national specialty pharmacy, provider that cares for chronic and complex patients across the United States. And we’ve recently partnered with you guys. So it’s very exciting times for us. I also serve as the executive vice president. Chief Health Officer here at Hy Vee, which is Amber Specialty Pharmacy’s parent company. And so, Hy Vee is a Midwestern supermarket chain that operates in many areas of health care, including retail pharmacy, telehealth, nutrition, and more. And I’ve worked for Hy Vee since 1993, starting as a part time checker and stocker at our Council Plus Iowa drugstore, and then I became a pharmacy intern, which ultimately led to my decision to pursue a career in pharmacy. Hy Vee. And after that, after I graduated from Drake University’s College of Pharmacy, I actually was on the Hy Vee Pharmacy Scholarship, so it was really great knowing that I was going to work for Hy Vee right after I graduated, became a registered pharmacist, and then served in many roles throughout Hy Vee as pharmacy manager, supervisor, and then overseeing our pharmacy training and education department. And then really the big turning point happened in my career about 10 years ago. When I was selected to open and lead Heidi’s First Pharmacy Fulfillment Center as the Assistant Vice President of Pharmacy Services, that really helped to support all of our retail pharmacies. And so I’ve been in many roles since then, but obviously pharmacy and patient care has always been my number one focus.

Amanda Brummitt: Wow, that is incredible, Kristen, to go from a checker at Hy Vee to Executive Vice President and Chief Health Officer. that is incredible. What a cool story.

Kristin Williams: Thank you. It’s a wonderful company to be a part of, that’s for sure.

Amanda Brummitt: Yeah, absolutely. and so, what would you say is your main area of expertise? It sounds like you’ve got a lot of depth in several areas. Absolutely.

Kristin Williams: Yeah, and coming from a pharmacy background and having worked really in, different areas throughout Haiti, I’ve gained a lot of knowledge throughout my career. So obviously as a leader, one of my main areas of expertise is the ability to connect certain pieces of our health care operations into larger overall strategies that really helps to increase the operational efficiencies and most importantly, improve that level of care for our patients. Thank you. And so I’m always learning and applying what I’ve learned in our operations and really outside too, right, taking in where the trends are heading and how we can capitalize on those in the future at Hy Vee and then obviously at Amber Specialty Pharmacy. And it’s been a constant evolution, to say the least. And so, how does everything that’s happening around us, how do we Hy Vee tize it? Yeah. To make it better for our patients. And then obviously our practitioners as well.

Amanda Brummitt: That’s a great lesson for all of us, Kristen. And thinking about that, what’s one pearl of wisdom you’d want our audience to take from it?

Kristin Williams: Yeah. you guys probably have heard or read the books from Simon Sinek on just really, the art of why, right. Making sure your audience, your employees, your patients, Anybody around you gets that solid background of the why behind your actions and what you’re moving towards. So if people clearly understand why you are doing something, and then it’s, you’re able to move everybody really in that same direction, it helps you get there faster. And then it also gives them an opportunity to, ask questions. behind the why, right? Why are we even moving in this direction? And so saying that knowledge is power is absolutely 100 percent true. and as a leader, it’s obviously in all of our best interest to take the time and educate those around you in pharmacy and specifically in the specialty space where that information is very complex. it’s especially important to make sure your whole team is on the same page with always putting that patient first. So.

Amanda Brummitt: Yeah, absolutely. And I think most of us are probably very familiar with his material. If anybody isn’t just Google Simon Sinek, what’s your why and it will change the way you approach everything. And I think it’s really applicable to what we all do here, Kristen, because Nobody, wants to buy something from a faceless organization that, delivers pharmaceuticals or medications. In fact, that sounds pretty scary, if your why is to bring health and help people thrive, that is something people can get behind. And that’s a company that people want to purchase goods and services from and trust. So, I think that’s a great point for our listeners.

Kristin Williams: Yeah, that’s a very good point. Amanda. Perfect. Yeah.

Amanda Brummitt: Yeah. So tell us, about Hy Vee and then specifically about Amber Specialty Pharmacy, for people that aren’t familiar with, the companies.

Kristin Williams: so Hy Vee is a retailer, unlike any other, it was founded 93 years ago and Hy Vee was built on the foundation of providing superior service to our customers. So today we’ve grown to operate more than 550 retail business units and have transformed into a national health and wellness leader. So as an employee owned company, we empower all of our 80, 000 employees to act like they own the place and take initiatives in our company’s success. And so we have a strong culture of making sure that the customer or patient in our case hear of what we’re talking about. They’re always front and center at any time. We have a saying at Hy Vee that we’ll do anything for a customer, and when looking for a specialty pharmacy partner, that’s the same philosophy we also have at Amber Specialty Pharmacy, which is really what led to our acquisition in 2014. Amber’s culture of how they care for patients mimics exactly what we’ve been doing at Hy Vee for a 93 year history. So Amber Specialty Pharmacy is focused on providing specialized care for patients with chronic complex medical conditions in areas of infusion, oncology, transplant, and limited distribution drugs. And we’ve established an exceptional reputation for providing personalized support and quality clinical care to patients and families using really a comprehensive care approach that supports the medical, emotional, financial, and administrative needs of those patients throughout the United States. So today we have 19 Amber Specialty Pharmacy locations across the United States with the ability to serve patients in all 50 states and we were named 2020 Specialty Pharmacy of the Year by the National Association of Specialty Pharmacy.

Amanda Brummitt: Oh, congratulations. I love that, that, you’ll do anything for a customer and I would assume that translated from Hy Vee into Amber Specialty Pharmacy and, as patients with chronic conditions, they really need that and deserve that. So, that’s fantastic.

Kristin Williams: Yes, a wonderful company to work for. Our, our executive director and Edeker, has had a great vision for our company, overall, but also specifically in the health and wellness space.

Amanda Brummitt: Fantastic. And then I understand that we’ve got a new integration between we infuse and amber that helps infusion providers navigate the pain and the cost around specialty pharmacy payer mandates. Can you tell us all about that and how it works?

Kristin Williams: Yeah, we were really excited to launch this. we spoke with Reese and all the individuals that we infused about this idea of integrating Amber Specialty Pharmacy inside of your software to make it easy for when you are hit with a patient that cannot do a buy in bill. We wanted a very easy integration for you to send that claim over for us and we will do the rest. And so as a specialty pharmacy provider, obviously our goal is to help and support both patients and their medical providers. And so that’s why we partner exclusively with We Infuse to add a white bagging e order integration that provides infusion centers with direct ordering access to that specialty prescription medication. So our goal is to help and support clinical staff by making their job easier. So the We Infuse integration is easy for clinics to use and it’s also available at no cost. So, it helps clinics by condensing required paperwork and reducing administrative burdens associated with payer mandate specialty pharmacy requirements, because that’s what we’re built upon, right? So, when you’re hit with those patients that are coming in, for an infused medication and because of how their, benefit plan design, we are taking that burden at no cost, and then we’re utilizing all of our infrastructure that we’ve had. for over, 20 plus years at Amber, and then shipping that medication right back to your door. again, we have a, team that’s devoted to helping your clinical office staff who use the WeInform, WeInfuse platform, and then our support staff helps to ensure that medications are overnighted to the infusion clinic directly, and each clinic is provided tracking information to really monitor that shipping process. And we can also handle all of the billing, payment collection, for the patients. So it’s really one less thing for clinics to worry about. And plus our team can complete those benefits investigation and assist with prior authorizations process at no cost to the We Infuse clinic. So our ultimate goal is really to make the infusion process as easy and seamless as possible for those providers. So in turn, patients can get their medication treatments quicker, and on time.

Amanda Brummitt: That sounds really, interesting, Kristen. I do want to just clarify one thing. You said there’s no cost to it. So can you explain how that works?

Kristin Williams: Yeah, there is literally no cost. So once you enable the feature on the we infused platform, and then you transfer that patient and, the notes that will go with it. over to Amber Specialty Pharmacy, we take it from there. So we do the copay assistance, we do the prior authorization, we really do everything for you and we collect the payment from the patient as well. and this is at no cost to, all of the ambulatory infusion clinics that use us today. So it’s a great feature, to hopefully, get patients on therapy much sooner for when you’re hit with, the times when you can’t do, Buy and bill, which is about 10 percent of the time.

Amanda Brummitt: Excellent. Thank you for walking us through that. So going back to you a little bit, how do you think your background as a pharmacist in particular has helped you really develop your perspective and approach to infusion?

Kristin Williams: When I was, when I think of myself as a 15 year old high school student working behind the pharmacy counter, ringing people out. in a small drugstore located in Countess, Iowa, I would say just the intricacy, of the whole process of filling a prescription from start to finish. And then, the constant care with the, humility that both of my mentors had, when patients would come up to the counter and ask them questions, no matter how minor it was, and then the sense of humor that they also carried with them. I think, with all of that bundling it together, I really gained a deep appreciation for the work. that was done by the providers, not only in retail pharmacy, but really overall in pharmacy as you progress. you don’t even know that, sometimes these different areas of focus are right in your backyard. the headquarters of Amber Specialty Pharmacy is located in Omaha, which is just right across the river of my hometown. So, just even, knowing that and knowing what wonderful culture, Amber has had for many, years. I know obviously infusion is a very complex treatment and it takes a, really a team of highly trained medical and pharmacy providers as well as support staff to help that patient in their journey. And so when you bundle all that up of just the experiences that I’ve had, throughout the years working for a company that allows you, to really solve any issue you’re presented with right there on the spot and not having a lot of, red tape to utilize your knowledge, talents and gifts to better that person’s life or your coworker’s life around you. It’s just really remarkable, that you’re given that level of independence or autonomy to take care of your patients and customers. And so that, that really allows that freedom of thought, throughout the whole organization. So you’re really putting those best practices in place.

Amanda Brummitt: Yeah, that is brilliant. I love that. You said solve any issue on the spot. Isn’t that what we all want to experience for our patients? And, yeah, that’s just such a good way to put it. Moving into more, like the harder parts of infusion, what would you say has been your biggest challenge in infusion practice? And if you can maybe give us a specific story that gives us a little bit of a behind the scenes look.

Kristin Williams: Yeah, I would say, obviously, the majority of listeners on the call recognize the complexity of the patients that we’re treating in their conditions, which really makes the timing of those treatments so critical, right? We want to make sure that they have the right drug at the right time. And so we had a pediatric patient recently, who was a very complex condition that required a routine infusion treatment every two weeks. And due to personal circumstances, she had to switch to an ambulatory infusion clinic closer to home. And so to ensure a patient received her scheduled treatment at the new clinic, timing obviously was of the essence to coordinate that medication to make sure it gets there, the insurance is billed, which are oftentimes, right, the complex and especially care field, and especially working outside of the domain of those hospital systems. But fortunately, because we’re an independent specialty pharmacy, we had the flexibility to do this quickly and adapt and respond to the needs of our patients and providers. And so, we were able to get that medication. And we have stories like this that we’re hit with all the time. I would say the majority of the providers on this call probably have that experience. All of those same stories, right? They need to get that patient taken care of in a timely manner, and it’s just very gratifying when it all comes together, when you’re working as a collaborative team approach to make sure that patient is being taken care of as best as they can.

Amanda Brummitt: Yeah, that is brilliant when, when pharmacist I’ve heard put it, that we want to create a frictionless experience people, they’ve already got a chronic condition that they’re dealing with. So, let’s make the back end of it easy for them. And I feel like your story is a great illustration of that.

Kristin Williams: Yes. Yes. And there is no need, right? The patient is already has or their caregivers, right? have been dealing with the health care system either for a short period of time and just are starting to navigate it or they’ve been through a bunch of unnecessary hoops at times. And so yes, we want to take off any burden, any issues that they might be facing to just give them that seamless care. So yes, I completely agree with your past speaker when they said that yes, frictionless care.

Amanda Brummitt: Yeah. So there’s a ton of change happening right now in the infusion industry. Can you tell our listeners what you’re most excited about right now?

Kristin Williams: I would say it’s really just the evolution of what we’re seeing in the advancement of infusion therapies that are really being developed and will support the patients with those chronic and complex conditions. So obviously all the new advancements made in the infusion therapy is an opportunity to improve treatment and the outcome. for those patients. And so we’re really proud to be a part of this. we have access to a significant number of limited distribution drugs, and we’re always adding more, each year to support patients nationwide. this past year we launched 25 new limited distribution drugs, and so we’re very proud of that as well. But innovation and obviously, with the level of. data and information and research coming out just really at such a rapid pace, we’re going to start to see, I would say, more and more cures in the future too, to even offset the burdens that will be coming in the future.

Amanda Brummitt: Yeah, that’s fantastic. That’s really impressive to 25 new limited distribution drugs in a year. Well done.

Kristin Williams: I’m excited about that.

Amanda Brummitt: Yeah. So if you had to give our listeners just one last piece of advice, Kristen, what would it be?

Kristin Williams: I would just encourage all we infuse clinic users to try the new white bagging E order feature within we infuse. And our goal is to help support your staff by giving them back more time to focus in on the patient. and less time worrying about the coordination and logistics of getting the infusion treatment. And so if you have any questions or want to learn more, our team is always happy to meet with you or your clinical team. And again, this is a no cost option. and it’s really when you can’t get the medication in the traditional manner, right? We have A long history of utilizing our resources, to do the white bagging for you, very easily, and very, graciously through the partners at We Infuse. So we appreciate, this partnership and opportunity.

Amanda Brummitt: Well, Kristen, thank you so much for all the information about IV, about Amber specialty pharmacy. And, it was really interesting to hear about, your guys both approach to patient care, but also just to, leadership and running a business. it’s really, helpful.

Kristin Williams: Yes. Thank you, Amanda. I appreciate the time.

Amanda Brummitt: Well, there you have it. From checker to pharmacist to executive, all within the same company, Kristen’s story is really cool. Her insight around why we care for patients, solving issues on the spot, and quickly adapting to deliver great care to our complex specialty patients is invigorating. If you aren’t familiar with the WeInfuse software platform, For more information on this, please visit our website at

Guest Speaker:

Kristin Williams, is the current Executive Vice President and Chief Health Officer of Hy-Vee, Inc and President of Amber Specialty Pharmacy.