Independents Rank Highest in Patient Satisfaction

New survey data show that even in the current financial climate, quality service is more important to patients than low cost.

By Kate H. Gamble, Senior Editor

Cost may be important, but when it comes to choosing a drugstore, quality service is still the top priority for patients.

New research from 3 large-scale surveys shows that despite an increased sensitivity to cost issues—particularly in the past year—patient satisfaction hinges largely on factors like pharmacist knowledge about drugs and other products, helpfulness, speed, accuracy, and personal service. And the places that rank highest in these areas are independent drugstores.

A Consumer Reports survey found that 94% of readers are highly satisfied with their experiences at neighborhood independent drugstores, which ranked first in areas including quick counter service, reliability with medication pick-up, medication accuracy, and accessibility to pharmacists. The Medicine Shoppe and Health Mart, independent-like chains that are individually owned and operated but have a common parent company, were included in this group.

According to the report—in which 43,739 readers rated their experiences buying prescription drugs at walk-in chain, independent, supermarket, and mass-merchandise stores—22% said that they fill their prescriptions at big box stores, compared with 14% in 2002, with price cited as a key factor in the decision. In term of service, however, several issues arose. One in 4 mass merchant shoppers complained of a long wait at the service counter; 33% said they waited for 2 or more days to get a prescription if a drug was out of stock; 15% reported that an order wasn’t ready when promised; and 4% claimed they received the wrong number of pills.

The stores that were most likely to be out of stock, according to Consumer Reports, were Albertsons, Jewel-Osco, Smith’s, Stop & Shop, and Winn-Dixie supermarkets. Almost half lacked the medicine that patients needed on at least 1 occasion during the past year. Delays in getting out-of-stock drugs were reported to be longest at Giant Food, which was also cited as having the biggest bottlenecks at the pharmacy counter, along with Walmart and Meijer.

This is significant, as 49% of readers said that the ability to get in and out quickly with medicine in hand was a key consideration in choosing a drugstore.

Talk isn’t cheap

What’s also important is the fact that many patients go online to comment on their experiences and read what others have written. These conversations, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 U.S. National Pharmacy Study, “tend to revolve around good and bad experiences far more often than the cost paid for the prescription, with the primary complaints being unfriendly pharmacy staff, long wait times and prescription mistakes.”

In today’s ultra-competitive environment, even a little bit of bad publicity can negatively impact a pharmacy’s bottom line. On the other hand, positive comments can go a long way, according to the J.D. Power survey, which found that pharmacy customers who are highly satisfied are 3 times more likely to say they “definitely will” return to their pharmacy and 10 times more likely to say they “definitely will” recommend their pharmacy to others, compared to customers with low satisfaction levels. Based on national average spending by pharmacy customers, a highly satisfied customer may generate $227 in additional prescription revenue each year, the report found.

“Consumers are spending more on health care expenses in general due to various employer-implemented changes in insurance coverage,” said Jim Dougherty, director of the health care practice at J.D. Power and Associates. However, “high-performing pharmacies aren’t necessarily those with the lowest prices. Rather, pharmacies that are focused on service garner the highest levels of satisfaction. Customer service still trumps price, even in an environment where cost has become increasingly important.”

The value of face time

So how can pharmacies improve their service ratings?

One way is through face time, according to data from a Boehringer Ingelheim report, which found that patients who had in-depth counseling with a pharmacist were 90% likely to use the pharmacy again in the future and 71% likely to recommend the pharmacy. However, although most patients (80%) consider the service to be important, just 36% have used in-depth counseling, indicating a possible area of focus for patient care incentives. Those who use the service are also more like to make additional store purchases than other customers.

Other findings from the surveys are as follows:

  • Supermarket pharmacies came in second to independents in the Consumer Reports survey; 84% of readers who bought drugs there reported that they were highly satisfied.
  • In the J.D. Power survey, Publix ranked highest among supermarkets in terms of patient satisfaction with a score of 862 out of 1000, followed by Wegmans (859) and Winn-Dixie (853).
  • In the Consumer Reports survey, 41% of Americans said that they buy their prescription medicine at traditional chains, which is more than at any other type of drugstore.
  • According to J.D. Power, Target ranked highest among mass merchandisers for a fourth consecutive year with a score of 848, while Costco and Sam’s Club followed in a tie, each with 844.

As the role of the pharmacist in providing quality patient care continues to grow, pharmacies of all sizes have an opportunity to offer a higher level of service and become an invaluable resource for patients.