Independent Pharmacies: Fostering Strong Relationships with Satisfied Customers

Pharmacy CareersPharmacy Careers February 2015

Two kinds of people exist: those who enjoy following a well laid out path and those who prefer to march to the beat of their own drum. The latter group may be attracted to finding a job at an independent pharmacy.

Two kinds of people exist: those who enjoy following a well laid out path and those who prefer to march to the beat of their own drum. The latter group may be attracted to finding a job at an independent pharmacy.

Kris Hunsicker, PharmD, used to count down the hours till he could leave when he worked in a corporate retail pharmacy. Now, as an independent pharmacist based in Philadelphia, he said he wishes there were more hours in the day.

Following dreams of retail after he graduated from pharmacy school, Dr. Hunsicker instead found himself feeling exhausted and burned out after 10 years. “I can still remember the feeling of starting a 13-hour day, looking up at the clock and hoping it was 2 pm, and seeing it was only 10:30 am...ugh! Opening my own store has ended the days of clock watching,” he said.

With his store Fishtown Pharmacy up and running, Dr. Hunsicker’s days are full of activity. Every day is different, he said. He can whip up a new logo, figure out a new compound formula, develop creative advertising materials, connect to his customers via Twitter, and brainstorm ways of keeping his employees motivated.

“The personal satisfaction derived from navigating through those challenges is hard to put into words,” Dr. Hunsicker said. “Simply put, it’s wonderful.”

His only regret: not opening his pharmacy sooner.

Dr. Hunsicker sought to erase the bad associations some patients have with pharmacies. He did not want them anticipating long wait lines and impersonal service. So, he and his staff have made efforts to stay positive, keep wait times short, and know their patients’ names. An added bonus of creating this relationship, according to Dr. Hunsicker, is that he believes patients are more likely to ask questions and seek counsel if they feel a sense of familiarity with pharmacists and technicians.

Beyond just knowing his patients’ names, Dr. Hunsicker goes a step further. He maintains that page 1 of “How to Create a Successful Pharmacy” should advise pharmacists to deliver medications until each patient knows your face and name. He finds patients tend to feel more comfortable asking questions when they are in a comfort zone. Home visits can even lead to more customers. If a patient says he wants to get his mom to transfer, but she has always gone to some other pharmacy, for example, the pharmacist can offer to drop by her place and introduce himself or herself.

“The difference is finding a way to personalize the pharmacy,” Dr. Hunsicker said.

Another example of a personalized touch is Fishtown Pharmacy’s services for pet owners. Dr. Hunsicker’s own personal love for animals and the neighborhood’s shared affection moved him to compound veterinary medicine and market to local vets.

Pharmacy students will not be surprised to hear the important role social media plays in pharmacy these days, as well. Dr. Hunsicker had not used social media before opening Fishtown Pharmacy, but he has found Twitter and Facebook useful in establishing his business’s voice online. Social media can give personality to information, he said.

“Certainly someone can find a list of the side effects of prednisone online, but to hear a medication suggestion or tip in the actual pharmacist’s voice can prove far more accessible to a lay person,” he noted.

Back in college, Dr. Hunsicker said there were not-so-subtle attempts at minimizing the importance of retail pharmacists, but he discredits this point of view. Dr. Hunsicker believes retail pharmacists can provide personable service and thoughtful advice, but his takeaway was that retail can only be as interesting as you choose to make it.

“Personally, I wouldn’t trade my position for the world,” Dr. Hunsicker said. “I absolutely love it.”

High Customer Satisfaction

Perhaps thanks to these personalized touches, independent pharmacies are often rated high for customer service. In fact, last year independent pharmacies garnered the best ratings for speed, accuracy, helpfulness, and pharmacist’s knowledge, according to a Consumer Reports survey. Patients reported appreciation for independent pharmacies’ shorter wait times and the greater availability of medications in stock, as well, according to the survey.

A Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals—sponsored pharmacy satisfaction survey also credited independent pharmacies with the highest scores in customer service and loyalty. Patients of independent pharmacies were the most likely to recommend their pharmacy compared with food, mass merchant, and chain pharmacy patients.

Hats were tipped to locally owned franchises of Good Neighbor Pharmacy (GNP) and Health Mart in a JD Power 2014 Pharmacy study related to customer service. GNP, a network of 3100 independently owned community pharmacies, caters to specific population needs, often in rural areas.

“The Good Neighbor Pharmacy brand is recognized for caring, knowledgeable service, where patients are more than a number and each pharmacy has a distinct impact on its community by being locally owned, locally operated, and locally loved,” said Christine Lane, vice president of GNP.

GNP is a sponsor of the National Community Pharmacist’s Association Annual Convention and Trade Exposition, where students can participate in the Pruitt-Schutte Business Plan Competition. This contest challenges students to create a business model for buying an existing community pharmacy or developing a new pharmacy. The convention also allows students a chance to network with pharmacy owners and managers.

Benefits of a Network

One of the benefits of working at an independent pharmacy is its ability to offer niche services such as home delivery, medication synchronization, and disease state management programs. Getting involved with a network like GNP offers its own perks to pharmacists, as well.

GNP offers Pharmacy Transformation Services, which means pharmacy design teams, project managers, business coaches, field support, and computer-aided design are available to network members so that they can become better at driving patients to their stores. GNP has also offered education sessions to help pharmacists better understand the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Star Measures. Electronic Quality Improvement Platform for Plans and Pharmacies allows for collaboration among health plans and community pharmacists, as well as medication-related quality measurement, Lane noted.

Additional benefits to working for a GNP store are that the network offers marketing materials, such as signs and circulars, as well as national and community advertising. According to Lane, GNP stores also sell 52% more high-margin OTC items than other stores.

Beyond the traditional community pharmacist role, GNP affords opportunities for clinical care; clinical pharmacists can provide medication evaluations and recommendations and handle immunization delivery, diabetes management, and blood pressure monitoring.

Beyond the Traditional Pharmacist Role

Dimmy Sokhal, PharmD, said she became interested in Hayat Pharmacy after hearing its name praised for patient care services. Since she has been at Hayat, Dr. Sokhal said, she has been involved in many innovative projects, worked in close cooperation with various health care professionals, and attended educational conferences.

“After completing my community pharmacy residency, I wanted to utilize the experience I learned, and Hayat has given me the chance to apply my skills and enhance them by becoming a part of various clinical projects,” Dr. Sokhal said.

At Hayat Pharmacy, which is an independently run Health Mart pharmacy in Wisconsin, technology is used to better care for patients. Hayat offers a program called Simplify My Meds (SMM) through which the staff coordinates prescription processing for patients who are on multiple medications for chronic conditions. SMM also helps improve adherence, said Dr. Sokhal. Hayat pharmacists also receive referrals from local hospitals to perform medication reviews for children who were recently discharged from a hospital for asthma.

Dr. Sokhal, who described Hayat as a company open to changes, highlighted a few other areas where Hayat pharmacists can expand their role. Besides getting involved in Medication Therapy Management services and immunization delivery, pharmacists can work with other health care providers to decrease hospital readmission rates for their patients.

“We are establishing collaborations with other health care providers to work as an interprofessional team to serve our patients, where pharmacists offer comprehensive medication reviews for patients who are on multiple medications, were recently discharged from hospital, or have a health literacy concern,” Dr. Sokhal said.

Place in Society

Independent pharmacies can also serve an important role in society today in areas where access to prescription medicine can be limited. A new study published in Health Affairs examined “pharmacy deserts” in Chicago, and found there were fewer pharmacies in minority segregated communities than in segregated white communities and integrated communities. Independent pharmacies, however, covered a 20% higher share of the drugstores serving the minority neighborhoods, the researchers found. These results reaffirm the importance of independent pharmacies.

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