Building Community at an Independent Pharmacy
Aislinn Antrim: Hi, this is Aislinn Antrim from Pharmacy Times. Before we get started today, one of our top stories is about the discovery of an antibody which blocks infection by the coronavirus which causes COVID-19, so there's more info about that on Pharmacy Times. Today, I'm speaking with Mayank Amin, owner of Skippack Pharmacy in Pennsylvania, who has become better known as Super Mak since he has been dressing up as Captain America to deliver prescriptions during the COVID-19 pandemic. So, Mak, can you just tell us how you got started doing all this?
Mayank Amin, PharmD, RPh, MBA: Sure. So, it was about a month, month and a half ago. We're just like everyone else—there was panic throughout the industry, in health care, in patients, doctors, you name it, and it was a time where I had to decide if was I going to let this panic overtake our pharmacy and our employees or was I going to make something fun out of it. Obviously, COVID-19 is not something fun or exciting; needless to say, it's very scary. But I'm always someone that's optimistic and I always try to see the positive light in whatever we can do to help someone else, and for me it was trying to find a way to bring a smile to someone else's face in a time of chaos. And that's where the whole idea of Super Mak originated.
Aislinn Antrim: That's fantastic. What sort of reaction have you gotten? I know we've seen some, like, doorbell cameras of kids being excited, but what have you heard?
Mayank Amin, PharmD, RPh, MBA: So, that the first night, actually the first day I walked in with a superhero costume, patients just walked in and you saw everyone just, like, they were talking amongst each other and they were pointing and they were laughing and they were smiling. You can see that even amidst the chaos that there was, you know, a sense of comfort knowing that things would eventually be okay. And it wasn't till that night after I finished filling the prescriptions that I went out in the neighborhoods to make some deliveries—that hasn't changed since a year ago when I started this pharmacy—and I actually personally like going to deliver prescriptions to patients’ houses because I get to know them and they get to know me. Obviously, with no-contact in place it was more of a drop-off and then ring the doorbell. To my surprise, I actually had no idea, but I was being recorded by a Ring doorbell. I made a drop-off, rang the doorbell, got back in my car, and just proceeded to make my way two more deliveries. And then someone posted on Instagram an hour later saying, “How does your pharmacist deliver?” and then I had a picture of me ringing the doorbell with my superhero costume on, and that went viral pretty quick. But it was exciting to see, and you saw that so many people were happy to know that there's people out there that are willing to go the extra mile and kind of do anything possible to make someone smile. And the costume in general—I don't proclaim myself to be a superhero, I'm not at all. I'm a servant to my patients, to society, and I'm simply representing the millions of health care workers, first responders, and anyone that's out there helping somebody else. And that's why I have a costume and a mask on, because I'm in disguise, I represent them. And through all their support we've been able to help our community out.
Aislinn Antrim: Certainly, everyone's doing amazing work. You're in a community pharmacy setting, so what have you been seeing during the pandemic and how you and your staff been doing?
Mayank Amin, PharmD, RPh, MBA: I could say in a matter of a year this was the busiest that we've ever been, and it may be the busiest that this pharmacy has ever been in the 50 years that it was open prior to me reopening it from scratch. And it wasn't something that we kind of got alerted to. One morning I drove into the pharmacy and there was about 20 cars sitting in the parking lot, and this was after the first week Fox News had come here because I decided to come in here on a Sunday. We're usually closed on Sunday and I was getting text messages from patients saying, “Can you come in? Can you come in?” Obviously, they were in a panic because they needed gloves, Lysol wipes, Clorox, things like that that we had at that time. So I said, sure, I'll come in. And at that time Fox News was in the area, so they came over here. I guess they were alerted through Facebook that we were here at the pharmacy serving patients. The next morning is when the parking lot was full when I got here, and it hasn't cleared ever since. It's been a month and a half and every morning I feel like it's Black Friday here. I walk out in my superhero costume on many days and people are just smiling. And for me it’s a sense of gratification that these patients actually, truly appreciate their little pharmacy in a big town and in a town that's dominated by a lot of chains and big names. They appreciate the little guy.
Aislinn Antrim: Definitely, and it's so important to keep people smiling, especially right now. So, dressing as a superhero is certainly one of the most unique solutions that we've seen, but what other solutions are there? You said you've always done deliveries, but what other solutions have you been doing and have you seen from other pharmacies?
Mayank Amin, PharmD, RPh, MBA: So, apart from my pharmacy, I'm not a voice of community pharmacy but I am friends with hundreds of pharmacy owners throughout the country. When I decided to open this pharmacy a year ago, it was not profit driven, to say the least. I almost feel like it's a non-profit business, the way that things are heading with insurance companies and how we get reimbursed lower than the cost of drugs. Lo and behold, superheroes can't fight that. Unfortunately, we lose money on a lot of prescriptions and that's something that I feel like it's my duty to go out there and educate. I might not be the pharmacist that makes a million dollars, but I will be the voice that gets media attention and can reach the masses and let people know what we experience as small pharmacies, because I feel like all along independent
pharmacies have been here, but now with this virus here independent pharmacies have kind of stood up and said, “Hey, we're here for you guys.” It doesn't matter if no one else immediately in the left or right of you is, but we're going to stand up, we'll be here till midnight to help you out, we'll drop off your meds at 3 o'clock in the morning. Why? Because we care and that's what the communities are starting to realize, and a lot of my friends that are independent pharmacy owners throughout the country, they're literally going above and beyond, risking their lives, putting themselves in the forefront because that's what we do as community pharmacists. We care.
Aislinn Antrim: Absolutely. Kind of bouncing off of that, pharmacists are obviously incredibly important in the pandemic and even in more normal times. Can you just speak about the value of pharmacists and why you're so important as health care providers?
Mayank Amin, PharmD, RPh, MBA: So, as health care providers, pharmacies are obviously here to make sure that patients get the right medications, they're educated about the medication’s side effects. I think after opening a pharmacy myself, I think that's just a minor role in the whole scheme of things. Your pharmacist is your friend. If you go to a pharmacy and you can't connect with your pharmacist, there is, you know, it's just like getting something through the mail. You're just getting something dropped off to your door, you open it, you take it, and that's it. But I think there's more to a pharmacy now, and that's building that relationship with the patient, having them understand that you are there for them, you are their front line when someone has an emergency. Last night a patient had an issue, she had to go to the urgent care, but the nearest 24-hour pharmacy from us is about 45 minutes to an hour away. She texted me on our pharmacy’s texting line and I saw the message. Lo and behold I was out making deliveries at 12 o'clock, and that's what we do as independent pharmacists. I was making deliveries and I texted her back, I said, “Head to the pharmacy in 15 minutes, I'll be there. If you can't come out I'll drop it off to your house.” And I went back to the pharmacy and gave her the meds. So, we don't do these things for accolades or acclaim, we do this because we care. And there's thousands of stories, and this is the time. I think pharmacists throughout the country, it's your time to rise, not for fame but to be able to help your community and to let them know that you're here for them and kind of be there to assist them throughout this whole process, because it's not going away anytime soon, at least I don't think so. I think this is a new part of life until a vaccine or something is developed.
Aislinn Antrim: Definitely, and it's been amazing seeing all of the amazing things that pharmacists have been doing. The future of pharmacy is changing, and we've heard from some others that the COVID-19 pandemic might push that forward in terms of provider status and broader practice laws. How do you see the practice changing and why is that important?
Mayank Amin, PharmD, RPh, MBA: So, I think the whole model of pharmacy is changing in the sense that we're not just pharmacists that dispense medications. Initially, I went to pharmacy school at the University of Sciences and, you know, I thought the role of a pharmacist was we count pills, make sure that the pill that's in the bottle matches what's on the screen, and then, obviously, everything's already in place for drug interactions. Technology is in our favor now, so whatever it pops up on the screen you tell the patient. And lo and behold, when I came out of pharmacy school and now that I own my own pharmacy, I realize it's a lot more than that mechanical process. I think it's important that people realize that pharmacists are truly healthcare professionals. I know there's been a lot of controversies that pharmacists weren't recognized to be health care workers when some of the large companies in the country were giving freebies to other health care workers and there was a lot of chatter that, “Hey, how come pharmacists aren't recognized to be that healthcare provider?” And I think that role is changing now. I've had patients come here—just this past week, there were two sets of parents, two moms and dads of kids, that were having children. They're having children in the next week, or maybe the baby's already here, but they needed someone to give them a vaccine. So, both sets of parents came here, they drove a half hour to get to our pharmacy and we gave it to them. Yes, we might have put ourselves at risk by being that close to a patient, I know a lot of people are saying, “Should we actually give people vaccines right now?” These parents need it and if I don't stand up and give them these vaccines, I don't know who in our local area is going to. So, I think it's time that we put our big-boy pants on and get to work because that's the role that people want us to take. And as this changes and as we become more of that healthcare professional role in our community, I think the vaccines aspect and doing more things in the community to kind of connect with our patients, whether it's med reviews, going to patients’ houses to review medications, we do that on the regular. And tonight, right after this call, I'll be heading out to an 85-year-old’s house to check up on her. And obviously with a social distancing guideline in place, I'll be wearing this costume so she’ll probably think I'm crazy, but I'll be making sure that she's taking her medication packages, and if not what's the reason so I can report back to the doctor and come up with a solution with the physician to see how we can get this patient better.
Aislinn Antrim: Definitely. You certainly seem to have a great community around you and you've built those relationships. How are pharmacists, even outside of the medications, the immunizations, all of those clinical things—how are pharmacists important just in the community as a pillar of the community?
Mayank Amin, PharmD, RPh, MBA: So, I think I can speak on behalf of independent pharmacists, like the community pharmacy aspect on it. Just within a year's period of time that I've opened this pharmacy, we've had the local basketball, baseball, sports teams for the youth reach out to us, not because solely they want a donation but because they know that their small pharmacy actually cares. You know that you're going reach out to a local business because you know you're going to have support of somebody who's there, so when patients come into our pharmacy they know that when that dollar goes in the register most of it is not going to the pharmacists’ pockets. As a matter of fact, zero has come to my pockets in the past year, and that's why I viewed the whole thing, you know, am I opening a pharmacy to make money or is it a non-profit, because I haven't seen profits because of the things that we're doing in the community. I truly believe if we put patients over profits that will change the whole model of what people view pharmacies as. We're not here just to take that that money from that patient, put it into the register, call it a day, and say, “Hey, next patient, can I help you?” That's not what independent pharmacies do. We have a larger role in the community, so whether it's like we did a cookie challenge with the Girl Scouts where we donated 50 boxes of cookies. All those little things that you can say are the things that we are doing on a day to day basis, and it actually is quite rewarding, to say the least, to be able to help people, and they actually truly thank you. The amount of gifts cards, letters—I have an entire stockpile of that. Every day we get so many gifts from our patients because they truly care. Whether it's, you know, us caring for their parents, I've had people send me gifts from across the country saying, “Thank you, Dr. Mak and Skippack Pharmacy, for taking care of my parents because I'm not there. You guys are there taking care of them like you're their children.” And that's what we want to be; we want to be their grandchildren, we want to be the children, we want to be a sibling to them. And for as long as that happens there's nothing in this world, no mail-order facility, no large chain, no insurance company or PBM is going to be able to pass us up because we have a community behind us. And if I were to call my community here at Skippack, I'd probably have 5,000 people here in our parking lot by tomorrow. But obviously we can't do that because there's the virus out there, so I’ll fly to people's houses instead.
Aislinn Antrim: Well, we're going to let you get back to doing that. Thank you so much for joining us, and now let's hear from some of our other MJH Life Sciences brands on their latest headlines.