Journalists mull pharmacy’s role as health care demands new ideas


LAS VEGAS — An overwrought U.S. healthcare system in desperate need of new solutions and new ways to cut the unsustainable cost spiral will demand a new, more engaged and more patient-centered role for community pharmacists.

That was the conclusion of three leading pharmacy journalists who engaged in a lively discussion of pharmacy’s changing role as patients, payers and health providers all scramble to adapt to a healthcare system in the throes of massive change, with or without the Obama administration’s health-reform plan. In a panel discussion held at the ideaShare Broadcast Center on the trade floor at the McKesson conference, the three industry experts agreed that community pharmacists must continue to expand their roles as accessible neighborhood health providers. To thrive, they said, pharmacists must provide immunizations, disease management, wellness counseling and other vitally needed services, as a cost-effective and highly skilled adjunct to physicians and other members of the nation’s overstretched health care network.

With the business of dispensing prescription medicines “becoming more and more commoditized” and patients in greater need of accessible health professionals and clinical services, “you really need to stand for more than just a place to fill a script,” said Rob Eder, editor in chief of Drug Store News. And although chains are “slightly outperforming independents” in sales and profitability, he said, “the independents clearly have an opportunity … with the emphasis on service."

“It’s not just the ability to fill that script. It’s the ability to keep that patient on a regimen, keep them compliant, and make sure they’re on a healthy lifestyle,” Eder noted.

The retail pharmacy business, agreed Jeff Woldt, editorial director of Chain Drug Review, is “still pretty much tied to product, but for pharmacies to continue to flourish, they’ll need to make that transition to a service-based model. If community pharmacy doesn’t evolve, it’s going to be left behind.”

Will Lockwood, editor of Computer Talk for Pharmacists, noted that the growing need for more accessible clinical services is creating “great opportunities for pharmacists on the smaller, community pharmacy side for services like wound care and compression therapy.

Kevin Kettler, SVP marketing for McKesson Pharmaceutical, moderated the discussion. Noting the rapid pace of change in health care and its impact on pharmacy, he praised the ability of independents to adapt to their markets and provide what patients and customers are looking for in an uncertain era.

“In the old days of retail, you sold a lot of stuff to a lot of people and you made a lot of money. But the realities are changing,” added Eder. Now, he said, “the new rules are that you specialize … and you target a select group of consumers” with services and products. “You become an indispensable part of their lives.”

For instance, he said, “There’s a huge opportunity [dealing with] obesity in America for the community pharmacist, and weight management is a relatively easy program to put together.”

“The future is going to be about outcomes,” added Eder. “It’s not going to be about how many scripts you can fill. It’s going to be about how many patients’ lives you can improve. And that’s going to dictate whether or not you’re in the network … and how healthy your pharmacy business is going to be.”

This ad will auto-close in 10 seconds