Alex Mersch, Pharm.D., MBA, BCPS received his Pharm.D. at Roosevelt University in 2015 and completed his PGY-1 inpatient pharmacy residency training at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) in 2016. Beginning in pharmacy school and throughout his employment, he worked on his Master of Business Administration and completed this through Upper Iowa University in 2016. Alex spent his first two years post-residency providing both clinic-embedded and remote specialty pharmacy care as a multi-specialist. Shortly thereafter, he advanced to a coordinator role with specialty pharmacy where he assisted in standardization of specialty services and helped pilot several different service lines including one for clinic-administered pulmonary injectables. After another two years, Alex assumed the responsibilities of the Specialty Pharmacy Manager for the UIHC Specialty Pharmacy Program and continues to do so to this day. Alex has the pleasure of working with a world-class team of highly-trained pharmacists and technicians. This team supports a high-touch, clinic-embedded and/or remote pharmacist care model with a variety of complementary services including prior authorizations, copay assistance, and longitudinal patient and adherence management. In his role, Alex is tasked with overseeing the operations, growth, and scalability of the program throughout the entire health-system. His other responsibilities include implementation of outpatient REMS programs, accreditation and contracting, and assisting with high drug cost management throughout the health-system.
Alex works at The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC), an 811 bed academic medical center and the only comprehensive academic medical center in the state of Iowa. UIHC annually admits about 37,000 patients for in-patient hospital care. It represents over 200 outpatient clinic and care areas and has over 1 million clinic visits each year. In 2019-20 six of its adult care specialties were ranked among the nation’s best. It has been ranked by US news as one of the “Best Hospitals” and by Forbes as a top employer.
Recent Significant Projects
My recent focus has been planning and organizing for additional growth. We have several new specialty initiatives we are excited to roll out as we know the benefits to patient care and satisfaction our services provide. Part of my responsibility is ensuring that when these services are started, they are beneficial for patients, staff, providers, our program needs, meet accreditation requirements, and are sustainable. As a part of this, I get to focus on a passion of mine which is improving patient access to specialty medications. Improving access may include advocating for limited distribution medications, improving the timeliness and overall approvals for specialty medication starts, and securing financial assistance for patients. In addition, with our rapidly expanding program, many of our service lines have only been in existence for a few years and thus it is important to routinely revisit our processes for improvement.
I have also been recently involved with the onboarding of several different outpatient REMS programs including pulmonary hypertension and clinic-administered medications. Outside of initiatives directly related to my employment, I also serve as active member of the Iowa Pharmacy Association and serve on the Pharmacy Association Health-System Liaison Board and Legislative Advisory Committees.
Initial Involvement in ASHP
I serve on the Section of Specialty Pharmacy Practitioners Section Advisory Group (SAG) for Business Development. My subgroup is focused on developing marketing materials for specialty pharmacy business development, engagement, and justification to relevant stakeholders. In addition to this, I also participate as the new practitioner of the ASHP Council on Pharmacy Practice.
Why did you become involved in ASHP?
In short, I was inspired to join by the fantastic and passionate mentors I had in pharmacy school. This generated a positive feedback cycle in that the more I became involved in state affiliates and the national level, the more mentors I identified, learned from, and drew inspiration from. This continued through residency and is a continual driver today. As time goes on, my involvement is furthered by my desire to give back as a mentor and advance the profession as those that have come before me.
Advice for Someone New to Specialty Area
Be comfortable with being uncomfortable and embrace the pharmacist mission of being a lifelong learner. Specialty pharmacy is extremely complex and there are a lot of caveats that can make major difference between safe, optimal, and cost-effective use of these medications versus inappropriate or wasteful use. Spending time learning the fundamentals of why these agents are considered specialty medications, the different nuances of billing and 340B, REMs, supply chain, and general trends applicable to therapeutic classes or all agents will go a long way. Also, never be afraid to ask for help! With how rapid specialty pharmacy evolves, it is quite common to see something for the first time. Leaning on internal and external networks (such as those developed through ASHP involvement) will get you better and more timely answers instead of “going it alone.” With how new most medications and associated processes are, it is crucial to get the perspective of our pharmacists and technicians.
How would you explain the value of ASHP to a friend or colleague?
ASHP is the driver for progression in health-system pharmacy at the national level. Whether someone is looking for a career, toolkits, advocacy, networking, practice advancement ideas, or keeping up on current health-system trends, ASHP is the premier organization that consistently delivers value.
What is the value of ASHP for the profession?
ASHP is a critical resource and organization for advancing the practice of pharmacy for health-systems and beyond. It is a conduit for which best practice can rapidly be shared, advocated for, and evolved across health-systems. The collective voice, knowledge, and service of ASHP members expedites solutions to high-impact problems that are facing our health-systems today.