By Robert J. Dudzinski, Pharm.D., Executive Vice President, West Corporation
Customers have long turned to their trusted pharmacist for advice about managing their medications and their health conditions. But as consumers take on more financial responsibility for their healthcare, they need to engage even more with their pharmacists. To that end, pharmacies have an unprecedented opportunity to enhance their status as a valued provider.
For instance, total revenues for retail, mail, and specialty pharmacies are estimated at $364.1 billion in 2015, up 12.1% from the previous year, according to Drug Channels Institute, boosted in large part by Medicaid’s recent expansion of covered drugs. But this surge in business comes with challenges, including the battle against medication non-adherence and the tension between increasing volume and personalized service. We set out to discover what leading pharmacy retailers are doing to leverage their growing role as front-line healthcare providers. Here’s what we found:
1. They personalize the customer experience¹
Cutting edge retail pharmacies are tapping into internal information, known preferences and even social media data to better understand how, when and what to communicate with their customers. For instance, Good Neighbor Pharmacy, with 3,162 stores, has expanded its interactive offerings with enhanced Facebook presence, improved website and new mobile app. Kroger, with 2,111 grocery store-based pharmacies, is leveraging data analytics for insights on customer shopping habits and behaviors. Kmart, with 723 pharmacies within its big box stores, launched an effort to transform into a member-centric organization, and like Kroger, is using a variety of emerging technologies to better understand how to interact with each customer.
2. They foster deeper pharmacist-to-patient relationships²
The smartest retail pharmacy chains realize that patients may visit several different doctors and health systems, but likely use a single pharmacy for many years. Pharmacists can play a key role in improving continuity of care, as health care payment models shift from fee-for-service to value based reimbursement. So pharmacists are providing more one-on-one consultations and informational sessions with patients. Kmart’s pharmacists, for example, are trained in medication therapy management and offer ongoing individualized consultations. Health Mart, with 3,865 locations, offers a consumer-facing customizable website and mobile app that offers one-on-on services to support adherence and positive outcomes, while driving refills. Kroger offers coaching for patients with a variety of goals including fitness, nutrition, weight management, and smoking cessation.
3. They embrace the role of pharmacist as physician “extender”
Smart pharmacies see pharmacists as the eyes and ears of the healthcare ecosystem. That’s because many patients visit the pharmacy once a month – at least – versus the once-yearly visit to their PCP. In a survey by the Health Resource Institute, three quarters of consumers surveyed said they were open to “extenders”, such as nurse practitioners and pharmacists, performing health services. Post-ACA, the wait for doctors’ appointments is rising, and pharmacies prepared to provide patients with a growing array of primary care services will flourish.
Safeway/Albertsons, with 1,600 retail pharmacy outlets inside their grocery stores, offers a comprehensive diabetes care program which can include one-off seminars, ongoing diabetes management classes or even a six-month program of education and follow-up to encourage sustainable healthy lifestyle choices. Loblaw/Shopper’s Drug Mart, with 1,799 pharmacy locations, offers flu screenings, a first in Canada. In some locations, pharmacists are authorized to prescribe anti-viral medication if indicated by the flu screening. The chain has also partnered with a large health system to assist with care transitions for patients leaving the hospital with new medications.
4. They see technology as a solution³
Forward-thinking pharmacy chains are looking to technology to help streamline prescription-filling, maximize workflow, monitor performance, track medication adherence – all in the name of freeing up pharmacists to counsel patients. Costco, with pharmacies in 459 warehouse stores, is preparing to implement a technology tool for outcomes management, with a focus on the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Star Ratings. It will enable Costco to identify at-risk and non-adherent patients. Health Mart launched an online platform that gives health plans and community pharmacy organization members access to their performance data and industry benchmarks to help identify areas to improve.
5. They seize new expansion opportunities
Specialty drugs that treat complex and/or chronic conditions are the fastest growing segment of the pharmaceutical industry, and there is growing demand for specially trained pharmacists who can assist patients with ongoing medication management. AAP, for instance, with 2,115 retail locations, launched “AAP Specialty” in 2014 for pharmacies to be trained in-house and receive tools to become a specialty pharmacy. The company also provides a centralized hub to manage the clinical, financial, prior authorization, data aggregation, medication safety and adherence services for all emerging specialty pharmacy outlets.
Another expansion target is retail clinics that provide screenings, immunizations, and other routine care. Americans visit retail clinics over 10.5 million times a year. Demand is expected to continue growing as consumers search for more convenient, affordable care options. While the best known player in the retail clinic space is CVS’ Minute Clinic, other chains are staking their claim to this lucrative segment. Kroger, for instance, has a total of 165 “Little Clinics” which provide vaccinations and diagnose/treat minor illnesses at retail locations.
What conclusion can we draw from these five trends? Well, one thing many of the best retail pharmacies have in common is their effort to simplify and automate mundane tasks like filling prescriptions, patient tracking, refill reminders, and other necessary reporting. This frees up the expertise of pharmacists to focus on what’s really important – engaging patients to improve their care experience and ultimately their health outcomes.