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Counter Talk: The soft touch of pharmacy

Since I became a pharmacist, many changes have occurred in the way we dispense the curative power of medications. Not only do we communicate blazingly fast with insurance companies to fill prescriptions, but through electronic prescribing, prescribers can let us know what they need in a matter of keystrokes. And the newer medications have simply amazed me. For example, in my lifetime I never thought I would see a cure for hepatitis C with minimal side effects.

Yet, with all these advances, our profession has experienced a phenomenon that is not so positive — getting lower and slower payment for our services. How do we combat a force in community pharmacy that has such a detrimental impact?

Pharmacists need a good long-term strategy for increasing prescription volume. I recommend improving relationships with the patients. In other words, devoting the time to truly understanding our patients or, as I refer to it, using “the soft touch of pharmacy.”It is not as easy as it sounds because, while dispensing medications might be easier, dwindling reimbursements, and the often difficult and time-consuming job of deciphering insurance requirements and prior authorizations, make it harder to invest the time in getting to know and understand your patients.
I am advocating that you think outside of the literal and metaphorical box. In other words, leave the confines of the store to visit organizations where your patients spend time. For example, ASOs, CBOs and FQHCs. When you visit, it is extremely important to find the person in charge — a practice manager — and offer to give a talk on a subject in which you are well versed and that would add value to the organization. These talks will not only have an impact on the patients, but also will serve as advertisements for providers and referral sources who will hear about them.

Additionally, you will gain insight into your patients’ thinking, and they will serve as a springboard to subsequent conversations with the providers at these organizations — a winning strategy that could help direct prescriptions to your pharmacy and thus increase your prescription volume.

There are many other benefits to the soft-touch approach. In a highly competitive marketplace, showing enhanced patient understanding can afford retail pharmacy new business opportunities, as well. In addition to increased prescription volume, you can make a viable argument to drug companies to carry limited distribution drugs.

Initially, implementing a soft touch of pharmacy strategy toward your patients will be time-consuming and expensive. You will need to be out of the pharmacy more and will need to hire someone to fill in as you explore different worlds. Plus, you may need time to review basics of disease states. But the time and effort you put into the soft-touch strategy will help increase revenue to your business because your pharmacy will be better suited to helping your patients, and thus increasing your prescription revenue.

What are you waiting for?

Joel Zive is the director of education at Medly Pharmacy in Brooklyn, N.Y.
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