Q & A with David L. Smithwick, RPh, Senior Director, Pharmacy Segment Marketing - Channel Development and Sales, GSK

Published Online: Friday, September 30, 2011
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GlaxoSmithKline’s New Community Outreach Team: A Conversation with David Smithwick, RPh


Pharmacy Times: What does this new initiative mean for GSK?

DS: GSK strives to truly understand the issues and needs of our customers. We want to be a trusted ally, collaborating with customers to provide solutions that make a difference in patients’ lives. Our new Community Pharmacy Team is a great example of GSK’s “customer-centric” approach. The team provides us with the opportunity to help pharmacists in their efforts to help patients.   

Pharmacy Times: How did this all come about?

DS: GSK has a history of supporting pharmacists through various initiatives like the Asheville Project. In 2009, we had a project team at GSK that conducted a deep dive to better understand pharmacists and how GSK could be a more valuable and trusted resource to pharmacists.  

We conducted a large market research project with over 750 pharmacists from all different parts of the profession, including regional and large chains and independents. What makes them tick? What’s important to them? Where do we have shared interests with respect to patient care? We conducted research to understand what types of resources pharmacists might want from GSK. If we were going to engage with pharmacists at a store level, what should that look like?

As we started to explore this customer, we saw the value that pharmacists play in increasing adherence and getting patients to better outcomes. We learned about pharmacists’ interest in doing more for patients, while also understanding some of the barriers and challenges that they face every day. After getting good insight into the customer, we started thinking about the types of information and the types of tools that we could offer.

As we were doing this work, we gravitated towards the concept of having a team that was completely dedicated to pharmacy. We found that pharmacists would like to have a single point of contact with GSK and that they would like the person that interacts with them to be a peer to peer resource.

Pharmacy Times: What were some of your key learnings?

DS: We learned that what really makes the pharmacist tick—and it was the same for me when I was a pharmacist—is that interaction with the customers. Counseling is something that can be very gratifying when they are able to do it right. You know, that’s what we went to pharmacy school for, right? We learned that there are a lot of different ways in which counseling occurs. You have in-depth sophisticated counseling, and you also have the regular interactions with patients, especially patients new to a condition or treatment. And what we learned from the pharmacists is that they would really like educational information and resources that help them efficiently explain to the patient more about their disease state and their medication.

We also have known for some time that adherence is a challenge that we all face. For every new patient that goes to the pharmacy, we see a significant drop off prior to the first refill across chronic medications. We know that there are a lot of reasons for non-adherence, but a basic issue is that when patients get home they don’t necessarily remember or understand the medications that they’re taking. They don’t really know about the disease state or how the product can benefit them.

So, based on what we learned, we are collaborating with pharmacists to encourage appropriate use and adherence—especially with new patients, because that’s where you see the biggest drop-off.

Pharmacy Times: In what ways is this program unique?

DS: I don’t think any other company in the industry is doing what we’re doing, so I think we’re very forward looking in terms of our approach. We are also likely unique in the level or depth of work we have done to really understand what pharmacists would find helpful from a pharmaceutical company. So much of what we are doing is actually shaped by pharmacists. 

Another thing we’ve done that’s really different is to share our strategies and plans for local activities with our chain headquarter customers. I think our customers appreciate the alignment and visibility to what we are thinking and doing. It helps that our efforts are aligned with good patient care. 

Pharmacy Times: Just how many members are on this team? Is it something that’s going out throughout the states?    

DS: Yes, it’s across the country. If you include the entire team, it’s close to 100 people.

Pharmacy Times: And the team is made up of pharmacists?

DS:  Most team members are pharmacists and most of them have retail pharmacy experience. 

Pharmacy Times: And at the same time, you’re gathering information on how it’s all working?

DS:  Yes, absolutely. What we’re hearing so far is that the customers appreciate our support. And again, we are seeing that many pharmacists want to engage even more with patients. The team started in April, and we have done a good job getting out to meet with pharmacists and district and regional pharmacy management. As our research predicted, our team is having success in identifying pharmacists and district/regional pharmacy managers who want to collaborate with us to deliver better patient care, better patient retention, and increased adherence. We will also continue to measure how pharmacists view the new team. 

Pharmacy Times: What kind of training went into getting this team ready to go out?

DS: We had a significant amount of product training over the course of a couple of months.  Training is a continuous effort so it did not stop with the launch of the team. 

Pharmacy Times: Seriously, the short term goals are clear, so what would you say are the long-term goals?

DS: The long-term goals are to continue to support appropriate use of medications with patients who suffer from chronic conditions. We do have a unique portfolio at GSK. We have vaccines. We also have a consumer health care portfolio. So we’re considering ways to provide support across our portfolio.

Pharmacy Times: Is there one therapeutic area that you are concentrated on more than another in these early days of the program?

DS: We do have a number of chronic medications. We have a great portfolio of respiratory products. And we also know that pharmacists are uniquely positioned to help patients with respiratory conditions… So whether it’s COPD or asthma, these conditions have a very significant impact on patients. Pharmacists are very well-positioned to help those patients—and so that’s an area of focus. We also have interest in BPH and Very High Triglycerides.

Pharmacy Times: Did your market research give you any indication from the pharmacist’s point of view about any frustration about health care reform and not being reimbursed for services?

DS:  In general, we heard that pharmacists know the value they can bring the health care system. We know they’re doing more and more of that—whether it’s expanding into more cognitive services or vaccinating or delivering MTM. They see the change and they see that there’s more and more opportunity to deliver value in the health care system.

Pharmacy Times: Do you have any plans in having this GSK program discussed at the student level?

DS: What we’re trying to do now is establish relationships and contacts at the pharmacy store and the pharmacist’s supervisor levels. Pharmacy schools are highly engaged to help their pharmacy students to be very involved in patient care. That would certainly be aligned with the direction that we’re going in and something we would consider for the longer term.

Pharmacy Times: With this new program, what are you bringing to the pharmacist that would help them and their workflow?

DS: I don’t know if it’s necessarily helping with their workflow as much as it is just fitting with it. So there are different things you could do—if you want to provide a resource around a disease state you could make it 20 pages or you could make it one page. One page clearly fits more in the workflow better as long as the information is complete and informative.

Pharmacy Times: Are you using any multimedia or social media?

DS: We have a group within our organization that’s focused on digital media as different technology and our approach evolves. We’re going to reach out to the customer and see what’s working and what isn’t working—and what we can take to another level.

Pharmacy Times: This GSK program sounds like something that would assist all the baby boomers out there with their medication adherence.  

DS: I am a pharmacist and practiced in retail for over 7 years, and I’m really proud that our company has taken this approach. It’s a really good thing for patients and the profession and I’m proud I work for a company that is stepping up to the plate in such a big way.

Pharmacy Times: Thank you, David, for taking the time to speak with us and explain the genesis of this exciting program and what it hopes to accomplish. We look forward to bringing our readers the latest developments as it progresses.



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