By Chris Antypas
The outlook for independent pharmacies in the US appears bleak at first glance: the number of independents has been in a slow, steady decline for the past several years. But some community pharmacies are finding success despite the anti-competitive practices from vertically integrated pharmacies and relentless reimbursement pressure from pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs).1
What’s their secret? These pharmacies have learned to leverage their competitive advantages and attract informed customers who value what they have to offer. Successful independent pharmacies deliver higher value to patients than their competitors by building relationships in the community and by offering new and unique services – like the MedWise Safety Review™, a service from MedWise HealthCare that can identify patients at high risk of an adverse drug event – that can’t be found elsewhere. Independent pharmacies must also invest in relationships with payer organizations and use those relationships to demonstrate the value of their services. Improved clinical and financial outcomes are always of interest to payers, so pharmacies that can show validated and scalable improvements will find willing partners in payer organizations.
Leverage your advantages
If you operate a community pharmacy, one of your “secret weapons” is no secret at all—it’s right there in the name. Your business, and the people who work there, are a part of the community in a way that large pharmacy chains cannot match.
Your pharmacy may have served the same families for generations. There is a tangible value to that connection to the community. You know the people who walk through your doors, you understand their health goals and struggles, and you are their long-term partner in protecting and improving their health.
And you have many more advantages that you can leverage. As an independent pharmacy, your shop can offer services that just aren’t available everywhere. Compounding, same-day delivery, and primary care services spring to mind. While other pharmacies may offer some of these services, you, the independent pharmacist, have extraordinary latitude to tailor the services you offer to the needs of your specific community. And, as a member of that community, you have a direct line to your customers’ opinions on what’s working, what’s not, and what else they might want to see from your pharmacy. That’s what it means to be an entrepreneurial pharmacist: you make it a point to continually refine your product offering in order to exceed your customers’ expectations. Don’t settle for doing things the way they’ve always been done— even though it worked in the past.
Go beyond: develop unique service offerings
According to the AHRQ Patient Safety Network, adverse drug events (ADEs) result in nearly 700,000 emergency department visits and 100,000 hospitalizations annually.2 This is a topic of great concern for patients and caregivers, healthcare professionals, and payer organizations. Pharmacists are in a unique position to help prevent ADEs. They are the nexus between the prescriber and the patient and stand as the last (and best) line of defense against medication-related morbidity.
Engaged clinical pharmacists play an active role in treating high-risk patients and preventing ADEs, resulting in substantial reductions in hospital admissions (45% fewer) and emergency department visits (15% fewer) by some estimates.3 This enhanced service model is a boon to patients, and also highly valuable to payer organizations seeking to reduce the total cost of care delivered to their covered lives.
Some pharmacies go even further by offering new services that aren’t available anywhere else, including novel methods to proactively identify patients at risk of ADEs. The MedWise Risk Score™ and MedWise Safety Review™ are two important tools that are available now to independent pharmacies, to help patients manage their medication-related risks. The tools work in tandem: the MedWise Risk Score is calculated based on a patient’s current prescriptions and taking into account actuarial statistics (sex and age). A patient with a high-risk score may then be referred to receive a detailed MedWise Safety Review, which will highlight specific factors contributing to the elevated risk. Community pharmacists working together with certified MedWise Advisor™ pharmacists can then develop a customized medication regimen designed to lower the risk without compromising the effectiveness of the treatment. These products are available to community pharmacies through PrescribeWellness.
This kind of program, combined with the other inherent advantages mentioned earlier, adds up to a compelling case for your independent pharmacy to be the pharmacy of choice for the people in your community—and for payer organizations that cover them. The challenge to independent pharmacists is to make that case clearly and credibly to both of these audiences. Informed health consumers will identify your pharmacy as the leader in delivering high-value care to your community. Payers will see you as a partner in reducing the total cost of medical care delivered and will therefore direct patients to your pharmacy and its unique services. MedWise HealthCare can help you make your case to payers using their risk stratification tools.
Build relationships to build a healthier community
Some readers may be at a loss as to how to “make the case” for their pharmacy. “I’m a healthcare provider, not a marketer,” you may think. The good news is you don’t need to have a degree in marketing to get your message out effectively. The best way to showcase your services is to give people first-hand experience with them.
So, offer health screenings at the local senior center. Sponsor athletic teams and partner with primary care professionals to offer sports physical exams. Run vaccination drives. All of these things are leveraging what you are already good at: providing quality, high-value care to the community. Events like these offer the opportunity to meet new customers and introduce them to your business and its unique offerings. Some of them are going to like what they see and become loyal customers.
There are other relationships you should cultivate as well. Healthy relationships with prescribers in your area will go a long way. In general, they’ll be glad to have you as a partner in their patients’ health.
But don’t stop there. With persistence, you can identify key people at payer organizations in your area and present them with your unique services. If a payer thinks your pharmacy and the programs you operate (medication safety initiatives, for instance) can prevent ADEs or other serious medical events and save the plan money, they will be all ears. Payers are always eager to build partnerships that can improve clinical outcomes and reduce the total cost of care delivered. Payer partnerships can help you scale your programs to a larger region than your immediate geography. Industry partners like MedWise HealthCare have extensive experience in establishing and expanding relationships with payers and may be able to help you develop your “pitch” and estimate return on investment.
Relationships are the heart of a successful independent pharmacy. Building and nourishing healthy relationships with patients, prescribers, and payers is the best way to let them know about the unique advantages your pharmacy offers. Creating strong relationships is not a thing apart from delivering unique and high-value care offerings; it is an essential component of care. By taking an entrepreneurial approach to your pharmacy, you will ensure that you are delivering what your customers want, which will only reinforce the relationships you build in your community.
About the Author
- 1 Appold K. Independent Pharmacies: Not Dead Yet. Drug Topics Journal. 2019; 163 (1). Accessed at https://www.drugtopics.com/view/independent-pharmacies-not-dead-yet
2 Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Medication Errors and Adverse Drug Events. Updated September 2019. Accessed at https://psnet.ahrq.gov/primer/medication-errors-and-adverse-drug-events
3 CPESN. A different type of pharmacy practice for patients that need a higher level of pharmacy care. Accessed at https://cpesn.com/payors