Expert: Financial Burdens on Small Chains, Independent Pharmacies Are Creating Pharmacy Deserts

Susan Lang, MA, MBA, the CEO of XIL Health and former senior executive with Express Grips, discusses what might happen to independent pharmacies if things continue as they are following the financial difficulties of the pandemic.

Pharmacy Times interviewed Susan Lang, MA, MBA, the CEO of XIL Health and former senior executive with Express Grips, on the financial losses that pharmacies have experienced due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alana Hippensteele: If things continue as they are right now without any changes, what might happen to pharmacies that have been financially impacted by the pandemic?

Susan Lang: Right. So, I think it's like everything—I think the large pharmacies will do fine because they're highly diversified, really smart organizations. I think where you really feel the crunch is in these either very small chains with 25 or less stores or independent pharmacy owners.

We know many small chains have also been part of the vaccination program—who did a wonderful job—but for them, this shifting in resources, this shifting in cost is much more detrimental. They've got to find that money somewhere else. So, I think we've got to look at this very carefully.

We've lost a couple thousand independent pharmacies over the last 2 years. This is really becoming an incredibly critical issue because we're creating pharmacy deserts—just like we have food deserts where there's no supermarkets—we have clinic deserts in rural areas. I spend a lot of time in rural markets, even now, in my career, where you have no care.

So, it's really now coming down to what's your zip code if you have access. We really don't want to create another access problem. So, this is something that we're really going to have to look very deeply at and see if there's a solution, but my concern would be for the smaller guys. I think the bigger companies will do fine.

Alana Hippensteele: Right, yeah. That makes sense. Is there any hope in sight for the future for pharmacies that have been facing some of these financial issues during the pandemic?

Susan Lang: Yeah, absolutely. I think, like everything in health care, we're very innovative; the community is innovative. We've got technology coming in, we've got a lot of new companies coming in to help solve issues. A lot of small pharmacies can't invest in technology, so if you can just lease something or go out and partner with somebody, it's great.

So, we're seeing that all over the industry, so I expect to see lots of new models emerge. I think the last 3 years between DIRs, COVID-19, and cuts and reimbursement, and just lots of pressure in the market, and also still increasing volumes coming through those pharmacies.

So, still people are aging, they're taking more medicines. But I think there are a lot of new emerging models, and I think a lot of those will be technology based—some of those will be service based, like we'll see new services combined that we haven't seen in the past, subscriptions to go in and see a clinic and get your generics very inexpensively.

So, I think they could play a huge role in that, and so I think trade associations like NCPA and NACDS are doing a phenomenal job trying to help support and provide resources to them.

Alana Hippensteele: Absolutely, yeah. Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, Susan.

Susan Lang: My pleasure, take care.