New horizons for pharmacy services

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New horizons for pharmacy services

By David Orgel - 02/25/2020

Pharmacy, like any other business, cannot rest on its laurels. 

Despite the enormous value it provides, pharmacy increasingly needs to underscore that value and find new healthcare opportunities.

That was the perspective of industry leaders who spoke during an executive panel, called Pharmacy Services, at the Drug Store News Industry Issues Summit in New York City in December.

Executives pointed to the importance of underscoring the value of pharmacy services, supporting the business model, raising the profile of solutions, customizing for different generations, identifying gaps in services, and collaborating with other stakeholders on new opportunities. 

“We need to talk about how we in pharmacy and retail support the total healthcare journey and help patients through that navigation,” said panel moderator Jocelyn Konrad, chief pharmacy officer at Rite Aid. “We need to let consumers know we can actually do this.” 

Panelist Craig Norman, senior vice president of pharmacy at H-E-B, said the way to underscore pharmacy’s value is through developing patient relationships. He pointed to his company’s free health screenings program as a catalyst for building relationships.

“Since 2008, we have provided over two and a half million screenings for patients in our stores every second Saturday of every month in every pharmacy,” he said. “This has been one of the key ways we’ve developed that relationship with the consumer that we didn’t have previously. Maybe they were not our pharmacy customer, but now they’re coming in to take advantage of a free screening. I think that’s the kind of thing we have to continue to do as an industry to break down the barriers and let the value of the services we offer be known to everyone.”

Panel moderator Jocelyn Konrad, chief pharmacy officer at Rite Aid

Importance of Retailer-Supplier Collaboration 
Retailers and suppliers need to work together to build and underscore the value of pharmacy, according to speakers. Part of the objective is working on initiatives that can be monetized, they said. 

“Flu shots have been a success story, and instantly pharmacies were able to monetize it,” said panelist Jeff Mondelli, vice president of pharmacy, health and beauty at Wakefern Food. “However, a lot of what pharmacy does today, from a service perspective, is cost avoidance for the system. But how do you as a business monetize cost avoidance for someone else? So as we have conversations with our supplier partners, it’s important to get them to see this from our perspective.”

Panelist Adam Keeth, director of pharmacy merchandising at Sam’s Club, said collaboration with suppliers needs to focus on activities that are beneficial for pharmacies and consumers. 

“There has to be a benefit for the consumer that they can see,” he said. “And if they can’t see it, they’re not going to follow through, and we’re not getting paid. It’s about how are we upfront working with the supplier and saying, ‘Okay, this is what works all the way through.’”

A view of health care 15 years out

It’s hard enough to make forecasts a year ahead of time, but 15 years? 

Long-term predictions were one of the most engaging elements of the Pharmacy Services panel discussion at the Drug Store News Industry Issues Summit in New York City in December.

Panel moderator Jocelyn Konrad, who is chief pharmacy officer at Rite Aid, asked panelists how they see health care shaping up 15 years down the line. She noted it will be a period when millennials will turn from young consumers into older ones likely needing more care. 

“I don’t think it looks anything like it does today,” said panelist Tom O’Neill, president and CEO of Cognivue. “I think pharmacy will become more and more part of the primary care offering to the consumer.”

Panelist Kevin Barton, area vice president of business development at Tabula Rasa HealthCare, the parent company of PrescribeWellness, said he predicts a more personalized approach to pharmacy. 

“I think in 15 years, it’s going to be precision-based medicine with every individual patient,” he said. “And the pharmacist is going to be at the core to really manage what works best for that patient from a medication perspective, as well as the rest of the patient’s healthcare journey.”

Panelist Jeff Mondelli, vice president of pharmacy, health and beauty at Wakefern Food, said he agrees with Barton’s outlook, but added that the future “is up to us.”

He said, “We’ve got to continue to provide that value because that’s where it needs to go. The generation that is going to age into needing chronic care in 15 to 20 years will expect that; we just have to recognize the white space and fill it.”

Panelist Craig Norman, senior vice president of pharmacy at H-E-B, predicted pharmacists will still be integral to patients, but they will need to reach patients in a wider range of ways.

“Pharmacy will always remain the face of neighborhood health care, regardless,” he said. “It’s just that we will be reaching those faces in a lot different ways than we are today. It could be through telehealth, it could be through chat connections, it could be through a myriad of different avenues that we’re not really capitalizing on currently.

—David Orgel

Identifying Healthcare Gaps
Panel participants said the industry needs to examine the healthcare landscape to find the most important gaps for pharmacies to fill. 

“It’s important to take a broader look at health care in general,” said panelist Tom O’Neill, president and CEO of cognitive testing device maker Cognivue. “That means finding where the gaps are in primary care. I believe there’s opportunity there. We know primary care is challenged meeting all the demands of their patients and their health systems. They see upwards of 40 to 60 patients a day, and many times, they just don’t have the time to focus on things like cognitive health. So where the pharmacy can add services, take the burden off the doctor, and possibly partner with these doctors and health systems to bring added clinical value to these patients while adding a new service/revenue stream, everyone benefits.”

One way to increase opportunities for pharmacy is to expand the customer base being served, said panelist Kevin Barton, area vice president of business development at Tabula Rasa HealthCare, the parent company of PrescribeWellness.

“The financial situation that pharmacy is in has caused us to focus predominantly on Medicare,” he said. “But there’s so much opportunity outside of Medicare. And when you look at average adherence rates, you’re seeing significantly higher adherence rates in Medicare versus other markets because that’s what we’ve focused on for the past 10 years. And so taking a step back and really focusing on the broader population is really an opportunity.”

Raising the Profile of Services 
Also arising from the panel discussion were strategies on how to best communicate pharmacy’s value to consumers, including younger consumers who don’t yet have a deep connection to pharmacy. 

“We’re all on a healthcare journey and it changes throughout our lifetime,” said Lari Harding, vice president of product strategy and marketing at Inmar. “You have to meet the consumers where they are, and they’re on social. There are many good stories about how pharmacy is delivering good care and providing a good cost-benefit to our patients. And you can tell those stories on social, and come together and use influencer marketing and other things to really make health care one of the pillars of your overall marketing strategy.”

Choosing the right marketing platforms for different patients is an important objective, said H-E-B’s Norman.

“We need to find the right marketing and advertising channels so that we can reach our customers in the way that they want to be reached with that important message,” he said. “That could be through a digital app or through social media. It could be through commercials and print advertising. We’ve got to get the message of the value of pharmacy and the value of the pharmacist out there to the community.”

"The way a consumer thinks about how they make purchasing decisions in every other aspect of their lives has now entered health care. So they’re interested in understanding, ‘How can I prevent cost? How can I lower my cost?’ And I think we need to get creative as an industry."
Lari Harding, panelist and Inmar vice president of product strategy and marketing

Enhancing Business Models 

Panelists pointed to the importance of helping to enhance the business model of pharmacy services. 

Cognivue’s O’Neill broached the idea of an “annual health or screening club” that would provide a suite of annual services for a set price. “That way you’re not selling everything à la carte, which can be difficult to manage,” he said. “You bring clinical value at a value price, and create stickiness. You would include everything in one reasonable price that still makes the retailer profitable.”

Keeth of Sam’s Club cited a recently launched program at the company focused on providing bundles of healthcare services. The program, called Sam’s Club Care Accelerator Together With Humana, was launched in October with pilots in some markets. The initiative is geared to members, including small business owners. 

“We focus on how do we go out and use our economies of scale and relationships to bring in disparate companies and say, ‘Look, for $50 to $240 a year, depending on level chosen, you can save on our optical, you can save on prescriptions,’” Keeth said. “But we’re also going to give you discounts on other things, such as chiropractic and dentistry. And all that for one lump sum.”

Panelists also underscored the importance of relaying to patients the long-term benefits of pharmacy services expenditures. This is especially important at a time when many consumers are paying for all of their prescription costs and increasingly scrutinizing their healthcare spending, said Inmar’s Harding. 

“The way a consumer thinks about how they make purchasing decisions in every other aspect of their lives has now entered health care,” she said. “So they’re interested in understanding, ‘How can I prevent cost? How can I lower my cost?’ And I think we need to get creative as an industry and be willing to say, ‘Hey, consumer, I’m going to provide you these services and here’s my fee for services.’ That might be a better deal for them than the $6,000 or $14,000 that they have to pay out of their own pocket when they don’t take good care of themselves.”