CLUB MENTALITY: SAM'S CLUB PROMOTES PATIENT—PHARMACIST INTERACTION
Ms. Heinze is a freelance writer based in Vancouver, British Columbia.
When one joins a wholesaleclub—and thus pays a membershipfee—one expects a few things: thelowest price and a high level of serviceand quality. It is under this philosophythat Sam's Club—with over 580locations across the United States,most of which feature in-house pharmacies—operates, emphasizing accuracyand convenience in the rapidprocessing of prescriptions.
Mike Pitzl, a pharmacist and directorof operations of the pharmacydivision at Sam's Club, notes that amodest OTC department combinedwith a significant cash-based customerbase frees up the time that itspharmacists would otherwise spendon dealing with OTCs and insurancedocumentation.
"The people who come to a wholesaleclub are a little bit different: theyare used to service, and generally theyare small-business people," he explained."They are more cash-conscious.They are not spending asmuch time with insurance or multipleinsurance policies. Our pharmacistsgenerally have more time tospend with patients."
Pitzl adds that everyone visiting aSam's Club location can fill a prescription,not just members. "There isa misconception that you need amembership card to get a prescriptionfilled. That is not true; anyonecan get a prescription filled at a Sam'sClub and take advantage of thewholesale-club philosophy—the philosophyof excellent pricing, excellentservice, and the way that we processprescriptions accurately and quickly,"he explained.
While Pitzl concedes that price ison the top of the minds of those whojoin wholesale clubs, he underlinesthat Sam's Club's goal is to providetop-notch service. "Pharmacists arevery well aware of the fact that if wedo not differentiate by offering service,we are the same as everyoneelse," he said. "No one will travel by8 or 9 other drug outlets if there issomething special that we do notoffer. Price is important, but the serviceis more important."
The demand for good service is, inpart, driven by consumers' desire toknow more about what it is they havebeen prescribed. Pitzl, who hasworked in the industry for over 35years, observes that when he startedout, pharmacists rarely talked to anyone."It was a huge mystery," herecalled. Over the years, counselinghas become a crucial element in thepharmacy profession. "It is the pieceof our profession that separates usfrom the product—the service, counseling,and professionalism thatmakes us different from anyone else."Focusing solely on product is not asolid model for future progress, hesays. "The professional pharmacy willnever survive at all if it is just aboutproduct."
At the same time, pharmacistsshould be properly compensated forthe counseling they offer. "If we aregoing to provide cognitive services, orMTM [medication therapy management],or whatever you want to call it,there is a value," Pitzl said. "If peopleput any precedent on it at all, as in aphysician's office, they have to becompensated for it. If we are able to,in the long run, provide greater healthto the community, there should besome compensation for that."
The nature of the Sam's Club modelattracts those who enjoy interactingwith patients, and, according toPitzl, pharmacist turnover within thecompany is extremely low. "Becauseof the interaction that we allow, becauseof the practice, and because weare only open from 9:00 to 7:00 andwe are not open on Sundays, we attractpeople that are looking forsomething other than spending theentire day processing prescriptions,"he said. "They want something more,and we have something more, becausethey do have time to talk to the patientsand to give counsel. It is probablythe best-kept secret out there."