Kerr's Center Concentrates on Health and Education

FEBRUARY 01, 2007
Susan Farley

During the past several years, Kerr Drug has focused on changing its pharmacy care from product-based to service-based. The North Carolina-based company researched local communities to determine the health care needs of its customers, reviewing education level, financial situation, prevalence of disease states, and insurance statistics. As a result of that research, about 3 years ago, Kerr created a pharmacy known as the Community Healthcare Center. This pharmacy is different in that it does not sell any non-health-related products such as makeup, potato chips, flip-flops, or Halloween costumes—items often sold at large retail pharmacies to keep them in the black.

What customers can expect at the center is access to a wide variety of services designed to improve their health in some way, whether it is the dietitianstaffed "Hi-Energy Weight Control Center," respiratory service, OTC counseling, prenatal counseling, patient education, medication therapy management (MTM), or health screenings.

Clinical pharmacist Jennifer Hopson, PharmD, came onboard the Lenoir, NC-based facility as Kerr Drug's ideas were coming together, and she soon became a valuable part of making the center's objectives happen. While she keeps busy taking care of 40 patients as part of the Asheville Project and running flu clinics (among other duties), some center pharmacists are working with physicians to develop patient education programs, and others are involved with research, such as interviewing and following up with patients for Glaxo- SmithKline's asthma intervention program. "It's a good fit for these clinical pharmacists who have good access to the patients," said Dr. Hopson.

Patient Education Equals Preventive Medicine

A wide variety of health screenings and clinics are a big draw for this store—some are free and some are pay-forservice at the register. The center features a large classroom, allowing pharmacists to conduct a variety of patient education programs, which are the first steps to prevention of serious disease states. Dr. Hopson said they run about 10 to 15 programs each month; a recent program on bird flu was designed to inform and prepare people in the event of an outbreak. One of Dr. Hopson's favorite education programs was a health fair, themed "Women and Heart Disease," which included facial analysis, blood pressure screening, blood sugar testing, body fat and body mass index measurement, sleep apnea screening, and gift bags for all participants. Because Dr. Hopson is also a lactation educator, she is able to provide a unique service at the Lenoir center, which also boasts a breastfeeding support group. Other programs include smoking cessation and a "how-to" for nebulizers and inhalers. She noted that the most popular clinic to date was on fibromyalgia.

"We are always involved in some kind of intervention, whether it's cost savings or a medication interaction. A patient might be seeing 2 or 3 doctors who may or may not be communicating with each other. The medication therapy services we provide make it healthier and more cost-effective for the patients," said Dr. Hopson. "Drugs are powerful. People think drugs are candy, and they're not. Pharmacists are medication experts who take these medications very seriously."

From Customer Service to Clinical Service

"The pendulum is swinging," she noted. "Everything was leaning toward product at one time, and now it is moving toward service. The product dispensing can be left to [the mass marketers]— they are already retail giants. The independents and chain pharmacies will need to become more service-oriented in order to stay in business. Good customer service is essential, but clinical services are paramount. MTM services are becoming more important. It is a challenge for all of us."

Ultimately, she said, all pharmacists conduct a triage—but never charge patients for that service. "A pharmacist's diagnosing skills are limited, so in those instances they can refer the patients to a physician. Think about how much their intervention saves the health care system."

"Part of pharmacy is going to have to change, and growing pains are hard. We're struggling to define who we are. These are issues for pharmacy students to consider," Dr. Hopson added. In the meantime, Kerr's Community Healthcare Center is doing its part to keep escalating health care costs down by providing preventive measures through education and quality maintenance of health care through clinical services. By focusing exclusively on health, the Community Healthcare Center delivers a high level of service for its customers and allows pharmacists to use their clinical skills in a meaningful way.

Ms. Farley is a freelance medical writer based in Wakefield, RI.