Pharmacists can cement their role as health care’s most accessible provider
Opening an independent pharmacy in 2019 is not for the faint of heart. Faced with increasing competition from national chains, consolidation and declining reimbursements, the number of independent pharmacies has dropped to fewer than 22,000 in the United States. In Ohio, where our companies are based, more than 400 pharmacies have closed since 2013, with “pharmacy deserts” appearing in their place.
Yet, some community pharmacies like Powell Pharmacy are bucking that trend. And they’re dramatically changing the business model.
Unlike the major chains, independent pharmacies are more than a place to pick up prescriptions. They’re run by highly trained medical professionals dedicated to being a vital part of their customers’ healthcare team, and they strive to offer personalized care that mega chains often do not.
Research from CVS Health has shown that 69% of Americans visit their pharmacy at least once per month, and 64% already think of their pharmacist as part of their healthcare team. So there is great opportunity for independent pharmacies to deliver value-added services that will benefit not only their customers but the community as a whole.
Powell Pharmacy, for example, was built to provide its customers with a different experience — one that is focused on pharmacists acting as an essential part of patients’ healthcare teams. For every new prescription filled, we make a follow-up call within five days to find out if any adverse effects have been noticed, and to provide additional information about patients’ treatment plan. The store includes space for clinical services like immunizations and point-of-care testing, and offers medication therapy management. Finally, established patients can leave messages after hours for the pharmacist to attend to urgent needs.
At Powell Pharmacy, we consider the value-added services as essential to delivering better patient care and important for providing additional sources of revenue that ensure our business can grow and thrive in the face of competition.
We believe this approach is the future of pharmacy. The challenge is going to be getting other pharmacists to break free from traditional ways and revamp their practices. Powell Pharmacy offers a model for how to draw in consumers who may be more familiar with chain stores than the unique experiences that independent pharmacies can provide.
Today’s consumers turn to the Internet for everything. Their approach to discovering pharmacies is no different. To effectively compete against national chains, independent pharmacies need to leverage technology to get noticed, promote their brand and engage customers.
Many independent pharmacies are turning to digital marketing and social media to grow their brands online. At Powell Pharmacy, we recently launched a digital campaign through Updox’s Customer Relationship Management platform to introduce the pharmacy and its services to the community. In just two weeks, the campaign reached more than 20,000 prospective customers in the local area, resulting in 130 calls, visits and direction inquiries.
However, thinking digitally goes beyond driving new traffic. It also means keeping tabs on online reviews and active reputation management. It means being accessible to patients when they have a question about their drug therapy or new prescription, for example, through technology like secure text messaging. And it means adapting to new trends like using live video chat to collaborate with physicians and counsel our patients.
Pharmacists considering expanding their businesses do not need to go it alone. The key is finding a technology partner that understands the unique needs of independent pharmacies and can help with effective digital strategies.
By strategically combining an innovative business model with cutting-edge technology, pharmacists have the opportunity to expand their role as health care’s most accessible providers.
Emlah Tubuo is the owner of Powell Pharmacy in Powell, Ohio.
Michael Morgan is the CEO of Updox.