Chains... What Are They Good For?


What is now accepted as pharmacy practice in the chain pharmacy setting is a far cry from how things once were.

I'm a huge fan of the social media. It gives me a chance to throw ideas out and see the response of others who are active in the social media. I try to share my thoughts at least once a week on my blog, but life gets hectic and sometimes I have trouble sitting down to put together a post.

As a result, I have become a huge fan of Twitter. I can share quick thoughts and get feedback almost instantaneously. Recently I made a comment about chain pharmacy ruining the profession of pharmacy. A fellow Tweep asked me to explain. I was going to send him an email, but then it struck me that the topic could be something I could use for a blog post, so here it is.

Let me start out by saying that chain pharmacy has put a lot of food on my table and made a lot of house payments for me. I have worked in the chain environment for the first 16 years of my pharmacy career. I have learned a lot from these experiences. When I started, the chains weren't too bad to work for, but over the years I have witnessed the profession of pharmacy devolve into its current state.

What is now accepted as pharmacy practice in the chain pharmacy setting is a far cry from what it once was. Marketing ploys have changed the profession of pharmacy into simply a retail job. This post will focus on some of these ploys that have taken pharmacy to unprofessional place that it is today.

First up... insurance contracts. I can assure you that an independent pharmacist wasn't the first person to sign an AWP - 17% + $1.50 contract. It was the big boys. The ones who are able to withstand the lower reimbursement rates because they get larger discounts by buying in bulk. Smaller operations were forced to accept the low rates or risk being dropped from a PBM's network. Now the PBMs have developed multiple reimbursement formulas that capitalize on multiple reimbursement formulas. AWP, WAC, GEAP, FUL, and MAC may look like alphabet soup to you, but to the PBMs it's a means to guarantee that they will pay the least amount for a medication that they can. Some insurers have gone as far as to establish their own MAC lists. Good luck getting a copy of that list. In the take-it-or-leave-it world of PBM contracts, most pharmacists sign the contract without even reading the reimbursement rates. And we can thank the chains for starting us down that road.

Next on the list... gift cards and coupons. Pharmacy is a medical profession, not a marketing ploy. But rather than growing pharmacy business by offering superior medical care, the chains decided to start bribing patients to come to their establishments. Transfer two prescriptions and get 25 bucks in gift cards has become the norm. These days the chains use the gift cards to handle complaints from customers. That's right, I called them customers and not patients. Patients have relationships with their medical professionals. How many district managers have ever used the term patient counts? It's always customer counts. That's how they view the pharmacy patrons.

Next up... 24 hour pharmacies. Other than emergency departments, what medical professionals are open 24/7? Let's expand the question to professionals in general. How many lawyers have 24/7 hours? Or accountants? Yet pharmacists are working in these conditions all over the country. And if you've been paying attention to the news, you'll see that there have been a number of pharmacy robberies lately. Should medical professionals be putting their lives at risk so that Henry can pick up his Vicodin at 4:00 AM?

Ever see one of these... drive-thru pharmacies? Some will argue that drive-thru pharmacies offer a convenient alternative to people who may have difficulty walking back to the pharmacy department. Ask a person in retail pharmacy who actually utilizes the drive-thru. Rather than helping a very small segment of the patient population, drive-thru windows have advanced the notion of fast-food pharmacy.

Speaking of which... 15 minutes guarantees on prescriptions? Thank you, Rite Aid, for that wonderful idea. While I have worked at pharmacies that have been able to have wait times of less than 15 minutes, it was never guaranteed. The guarantee puts an extra level of stress on the medical professionals who work in the pharmacy. Can you imagine your dentist promising root canals in 15 minutes or less? You would question how professional the service would be. Enough said.

These are just some examples of what the chains have done. There are many other things that the chains have promoted that have helped to devalue the profession of pharmacy. Feel free to share them with me.

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