Patient support program operations: A peek behind the curtain
Sustaining an effective operations strategy during times of change and uncertainty presents numerous challenges—particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Troy Ward, Chief Operations Officer at Lash Group, offers insight into how his team maintains the highest levels of service, even under difficult circumstances.
Q: How have your 25-plus years of experience in the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries prepared you for your role as Chief Operations Officer at Lash Group?
Troy Ward: Before joining Lash Group, I was a service leader responsible for customer experience for a health plan, a manufacturer, and a pharmacy benefit management organization. Those experiences prepared me for the multi-faceted COO role I have today. I have worked extensively with companies that are key stakeholders to Lash Group — leading strategy, setting priorities, managing profitability, executing operational strategies, and ensuring regulatory compliance.
Q: How has your experience as a Lash Group client guided your thinking and priorities for the operations team?
TW: I look through the lens as a client would with each opportunity we pursue or problem we're trying to solve, asking “what needs are we addressing for our patients and customers?" and “how will they benefit from this change?" In my experience, initiatives that deliver the biggest impact rise to the top.
I appreciated transparency as a client, so that has become a priority for the team. The product pricing and staffing models used to support our programs are considered proprietary; however, in some cases sharing the underlying math we use to determine these components builds trust and, by virtue of that trust, long-term client relationships.
Q: You manage a large group of associates who essentially form the backbone of the Lash Group organization. What is your strategy for ensuring teams work effectively?
TW: A common challenge that teams struggle with is misaligned priorities. My strategy for ensuring effective teamwork is to focus on prioritization, provide the why it's important and the how every action contributes to our success. It's also important that we recognize contributions and coach team members for continuous development. It's something that sounds great in writing, but can be hard to implement at times.
At Lash Group, I've seen teams work together to create greater synergies across the business, get work done faster, and have a high level of engagement when our purpose and contributions to the company are clear. One great example of this is our transition to a complete virtual working environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We had a set priority of getting everyone working from home within a specific timeframe. Team members throughout the organization rallied around the goal and were able to successfully transition all team members safely.
Q: What would you want manufacturer clients to recognize if they could take a peek behind the curtain at Lash Group?
TW: I would like manufacturers to see the deep commitment of our associates to delivering excellent service and support. Also, the tremendous support our associates provide for each other. In just my first few months, I have witnessed numerous examples of thoughtfulness, caring and encouragement. What really stands out is how egos are checked at the door. Lash Group teams cross-collaborate and back each other up as much as possible.
Q: In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, what is the main priority for the operations team right now?
TW: The main priority is to support our associates so they can continue to deliver the highest levels of service. That means we need to understand their workload and adjust as needed. We need to set priorities to ensure associates act on the most important work first. We must also provide routine feedback. When we do all of that well, there will be greater engagement levels which translate into superior levels of service.
I have noticed that managers who had solid engagement routines prior to the pandemic adapted quickly by establishing new routines to check in and support their teams. We assess where leaders are spending time and how we can support them with tools and resources to limit non-value-added work or to redistribute the workload.Because of the pandemic, the office water cooler no longer exists. We've had to find new ways to check in with associates. Now, we touch base virtually with smaller groups within the team.
Q: How would you describe the spirit of your team as they have adjusted to virtual, home-based work?
TW: I am so proud to work for an organization that has rallied behind the work-from-home transition. It required the best from every individual to pull it off as quickly as we did. It was awesome to see how every area prioritized the safety of each associate.Moving nearly 4,000 people to a work-from-home environment was not a perfectly smooth process. There were a number of equipment combinations to consider to enable a speedy transition. Our IT teams did an amazing job under very tight timelines.
Our frontline associates practiced patience as we learned along the way, and they were quick to adjust to working from home. Fortunately, we were able to transition all associates while meeting every client service-level agreement. That's a huge accomplishment: Our clients have shared their appreciation of the seamless continuity of care for all patients throughout this event.
Recently, I had the opportunity to check in with associates in small chat sessions to see how they are doing. I'm inspired by their stories of how they are more productive and are converting their commute time into exercise or family time. Most have shared they have made the shift and are enjoying the new norm.