Ben Urick, PharmD, PhD
Ben Urick is a health services researcher in the Center for Medication Optimization. Dr. Urick’s primary research focuses on the role of community pharmacists in the evolving healthcare system and the use of secondary data to measure healthcare quality and spending. His current research includes evaluation of pharmacy services interventions, scientific reliability of provider-level quality measures, and factors which influence medication-related healthcare quality.
Tell me about your relevant background and experiences?
Initially, while completing my PharmD, I was not planning on conducting research as my main career. However, I discovered that I really enjoyed research, and really fell in love with the knowledge discovery process. Once I realized that research was fascinating and that I could also get my interpersonal fix by with working with students, then it made sense for me to pursue a PhD and to subsequently go into academia. So, immediately after pharmacy school at Drake University, I pursued a PhD at the University of Iowa.
The first four years of my PhD were very teaching focused, because I primarily wanted to teach and do a little bit of research on the side to keep my mind active. However, after my fourth year, I realized I was pretty good at statistical programming and I simultaneously realized there was a movement towards pharmacy quality and performance-based payment models. Next, I realized that I could actually do a dissertation that was relevant to all of that. So, I changed my dissertation topic towards the end of my PhD and decided to use a claims data base to construct a theory-based pharmacy value framework, which is very relevant to the current conversation about pharmacy and performance-based payment models. I wrote my entire dissertation in a year and began working at CMO in September of the year I finished by PhD.
What is your position within the school?
I am currently a research-track faculty member in the Center for Medication Optimization (CMO) at the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy. I lead the health services research interests at CMO related to medication-related quality and pharmacy quality, which are my areas of expertise. My tools of the trade involve very large data sets – hundreds of thousands, and sometimes millions of row records. I use statistical programming software to evaluate trends and medication related outcomes, and the impact of pharmacy services on health outcomes.
What attracted you to the role you are in today?
My choice of dissertation topic is not independent of my presence at UNC. In graduate school, I started learning about performance-based payment models that were occurring across the country, and a lot of the innovation was being led by those in North Carolina. Troy Trigstad, a graduate of the UNC ESOP PhD program and partner of CMO, was heading up a project that came to be known as the Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Network (CPESN) Project. When he was in Iowa I reached out to him and we realized that I had a set of skills – knowledge of health policy, pharmacy practice, value-based payment models, statistical programming, and research methods – that could be useful for the project. Although we decided that I would be a good fit, I really wanted to stay in academia. Ultimately, we were able to arrange a situation in which I could work on the project, but also work as faculty in the school of pharmacy. I was able to dedicate myself for the first 1.5-2 years to the CPESN project, and I am now transitioning away from that project while finishing up manuscripts and trying to develop my own research in pharmacy quality, medication-related quality, and the impact of pharmacists on value-based outcomes.
What projects are you working on right now and what do you want the public to know about your research?
Aside from the interesting, fulfilling, and productive CPESN project, I have two new funded projects that will be starting in the next few months. One, I like to jokingly call “Who Did What to Whom”, and this project involves estimating the relative contributions of physicians and pharmacists to shared quality measures. The premise is that there are payment models that physicians are exposed to that modify their remuneration based on some sort of quality measurement scheme. A lot of the quality measures that physicians are getting paid more or less based upon are medication related. Research suggests that pharmacists can have an impact on medication-related quality measures, therefore, community pharmacists are interested in contracting with physicians to help them reach their goals. However, physicians don’t have any place to start with evaluating how much a pharmacy should get paid for their contribution to any sort of changes in quality measures. So, this project is looking at shared medication-related quality measures that pharmacists and physicians can both potentially influence by using a novel statistical tool to evaluate the relative impact of pharmacists versus physicians within the same set of patients. This research may actually be used to advise on these contracts to help provide a starting point for negotiations.
The second big project that I will be starting soon involves evaluating the quality of care provided at telepharmacies. We are cross sectionally looking at telepharmacies versus the central pharmacies which serve them, and evaluating differences in medication adherence and medication appropriateness across those two sites. This study is funded by Cardinal, the owner of Telepharm, the largest vendor of community telepharmacy services. There has never been a study looking at the relative care quality of a telepharmacy versus a traditional community pharmacy. So, this would be the first study to actually look at this, which is exciting. From a policy perspective, many boards of pharmacy are looking to block the entry of telepharmacies into their states, partly based on the ambiguity around the safety of telepharmacies. This study could potentially help to answer questions of safety and facilitate innovation in telepharmacy care, ultimately bring medications closer to home, especially in rural areas.
What do you enjoy most about what you are doing?
I enjoy having the ability to do meaningful research that can have a positive impact on patients, practice, and health policy.
If you won the lottery what would you buy?
I would buy a brewery because I enjoy beer culture and getting technical about what goes into a beer. Right now, there is too much risk in opening a brewery, so winning the lottery would remove some of the risk. I would also open scholarship in my wife’s and my name for Drake University, probably for people who are interested in both music and pharmacy. I would also donate to my church and the Iowa City Free Medical Clinic.
If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
I would eat beef in all its various forms. I particularly like flank steak because it is versatile, delicious, and very robust. The best thing ever is sous-vide beef wellington.