Health Mart’s Lyons discusses how independent pharmacies are meeting patients’ needs
Even in the midst of a pandemic, independent pharmacy is setting itself apart by providing patients with the safety, ease and confidence they need to navigate it. That's the message that Health Mart chief pharmacist Nancy Lyons brought to a Drug Store News webinar held Tuesday afternoon, in which she addressed how independent pharmacy can capitalize on this growth opportunity, what the role of suppliers and technology services is in helping independent pharmacy improve retail health services and outcomes. In addition, Lyons offered insights on how independent pharmacy will operate in a post-pandemic environment.
The full webinar can be watched on-demand here.
Lyons discussed how independent pharmacies responded to the challenges they faced as the COVID-19 pandemic began to spread and very little was known about the virus, with information changing almost hourly.
In addition to figuring out how to protect their patients, customers and staff, independent pharmacies were tasked with following rapidly changing state and local regulatory changes, while they met an unprecedented demand for filling early refills and a never before seen demand for 90-day supplies of medications, Lyons noted.
“They were balancing all of that as business owners and pharmacists behind the counter. The true power of their independent pharmacy spirit shined during this time with their unique ability to make those decisions very rapidly," she said. "They did whatever it took to serve their patients and found that the valued services they already had, such as prescription delivery and some other niche things they did when they spent the extra time with their patients before the pandemic,” she said.
Lyons said that consumer demand is going to be the driver of everything going forward, as it did so before COVID.
“Now as consumers are motivated not only by their shopping wants, they also are thinking about the actual needs that are coming behind keeping their families safe. If the consumer is looking for a smaller environment where they can get in and out more quickly, the independent community pharmacy can win there,” she said.
Lyons said independents have put barriers in place, they have installed social distancing makers on the floor, and instituted hygiene practices following local requirements so that consumers can "see the people they’ve trusted for years are doing the best to take care of their families." Among the services that pharmacies used to better meet consumers' needs has been home delivery, she noted.
When it comes to how Health Mart pharmacies have gone above the call of duty amid the pandemic, Lyons said, many hosted live or recorded online sessions in which pharmacists working to help patients understand COVID information. “They dispelled myths, provided advice and calmed fears. It was someone from their neighborhood, saying, ‘It’s going to be OK — we have the medications you need, please don’t panic shop.’”
Furthermore, when there was a shortage of hand sanitizer for responders, Health Mart pharmacies compounded hand sanitizer, and donated these products, as well as PPE, and worked with first responders on the front lives with very sick, patients as the supply chain was resetting.
Lyons also pointed out that when HHS needed test locations in many areas where Health Mart is located, “Our pharmacies were putting pharmacists and techs outside when needed while filling 90- day scripts inside," Lyons said. "They didn’t have the benefit of the larger chains who have the extra staff to supply and move around. In some cases these are one- or two-person stores, and they were putting themselves and staff at risk to help."
Lyons credited Health Mart’s partnership with eTrueNorth and by extension HHS that made it more sustainable for Health Mart pharmacies to do COVID-19 testing. “We are expecting to expand in areas where it makes sense. As employers start getting more contracts and more needs for testing, and as antibody tests come out, Health Mart pharmacies are wanting and ready to step up. I think that would expand,” she said.
Finally, Lyons said that online and virtual solutions will be necessary to provide independents with the ability to augment what they do in the store with a virtual experience now that consumers have learned about online options, and order from home and pick up in-store options. “The independent community pharmacy is going to need that solution,” she said.