Like all of the attendees of this year’s virtual NACDS Annual Meeting, Wednesday morning gave me an opportunity to reflect on the role of change in the industry, as well as the old adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
As Larry Merlo outlined in accepting the Sheldon W. Fantle Lifetime Achievement Award, the pharmacy industry looks completely different than it did when he began his career as a pharmacist at Peoples Drug some 40 years ago. And while he may not have spent much time talking about it, his role in the evolution of the industry has not been insubstantial. Even in the relatively short six years that I’ve been at Drug Store News, initiatives from CVS Pharmacy, spearheaded by Merlo, have entirely reshaped not only how people think about CVS, but how people think about the role of pharmacy in general.
That brings me to the part where things have stayed the same. No, pharmacies no longer have soda bars (though I’m sure some now have kombucha taps) and certainly, heads would spin in the 1980s if you said that CVS would one day not just be a dominant drug store chain, but also an insurer and PBM company, but the cornerstone of the industry remains — the relationship between the patient and the pharmacist. This is something that Merlo’s remarks showed he understands well, and it has been the driving force behind the innovation that he led at the helm of CVS.
For all of the new integrations and services and imperatives, the sun at the center of the industry’s solar system remains the practice of pharmacy — the only real change has been the effectiveness with which pharmacists have been able to carry it out. The strides that the industry has made — through the collective effort of NACDS retailers and suppliers, as well as companies led by visionaries like Merlo — have all been in service of strengthening that relationship.
In another 40 years, when the next lifetime achievement honoree ends their career, the business may have changed, but the driving force likely will not. Like every year, this year’s NACDS Annual has been an important reminder of the industry’s strength and how it can still be shaped by its most tenacious members.