NACDS Regional Conference Focuses on Building Partnerships

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Jim Whitman, senior vice president of member programs and services at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), discussed the upcoming NACDS 2023 Regional Conference and what attendees can look forward to.

In an interview with Pharmacy Times, Jim Whitman, senior vice president of member programs and services at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS), discussed the upcoming NACDS 2023 Regional Conference and what attendees can look forward to. Pharmacy Times will be covering the conference live in Orlando, Florida, so stay tuned for session coverage and interviews with experts.

Q: How is the NACDS Regional Conference different from other NACDS meetings, and what is the goal of this meeting?

Jim Whitman: Regional Chain is a couple of things. It starts off our year of 2023 meetings and conferences, building upon the success of returning to meetings and conferences in 2022. And we are excited by Regional Chain. If you take a look at it, the industry and especially this is our 90th anniversary, and we always want to keep that in the background. But the regional chains are really the heart and soul of the industry. Every chain was originally [regional], when you think about it. At one time, they started with 1 store and built it up and added more. So, all the work comes from the history, the innovation, the ability to really know your community. You're talking about patient services, now we call value, and clinical trials and quality of care and provider services. But all that really started at the regional level where you're 1-on-1 with your customers. And that's why we're so excited to be in Orlando for this meeting. We have great attendance, and not only between the regionals and the people in the chains that are there, but also our supplier partners or strategic exchange partners, 50 companies who will be there to provide needed services and technology to the regional chain. So, it's a great way to have a meeting to really delve down into some of the critical issues and opportunities that that are in our industry.

Q: The 2023 meeting has a big focus on building partnerships. Can you discuss the value of strategic partnerships for pharmacies?

Jim Whitman: Absolutely, and I think it's key. I mean, if you take a look at our industry, everyone knows to be successful in any business, there's really 2 sides to it. And I think the 2 sides need to be a partnership, working together with common goals. Obviously, there's differences, but you're getting together in person to talk about all the opportunities that come to build each other's business, to obviously improve the health and wellness of consumers and patients. It is all very, very exciting. That's really what our industry is about. I mean we are there to make improvements in health and wellness, we are in the community, we know exactly what's happening with our customers, and our partners are critical to this. I mean, we operate at the retail level, and they're operating at the supplier level. But between the 2, you're going to have the solutions and the knowledge and the ability to make differences and meaningful differences in your customers’ lives. So that's what it's all about. It's a partnership. One person, really, when you think about it, can't do it all. And if you have partners, you're just going to be stronger, you're going to be better, you're going to be able to cover more territory, and you're going to be able to make a much greater difference.

Q: Are there any key sessions that attendees should be aware of?

Jim Whitman: I mean, you don't have in front [of you], but I want to pull everybody to the schedule, if those who are attending are on the NACDS Regional Chain website. But if you take a look at it, you'll see it's very, very robust. I mean, we're going to cover both pharma and non-pharma business and operational topics. We're very pleased to have the NACDS Chair Brian Nightengale be with us, our Chairman Justin Heiser, CEO of Thrifty White—a very, very unique, innovative, knowledgeable company—who will be chairing the meeting. And I think his story about how Thrifty White goes to market making the difference in their patient's life, how they're looking at the business, not only at the pharmacy, the use of pharmacists in providing more services, but the use of technologies and how it all comes together to make an improvement in health care delivery. And then we have, obviously, our President and CEO Steven Anderson.

But if you take a look at the entire schedule from Monday all the way to the close of Tuesday, we're covering a lot of the waterfront. We have from CMS, the Chief Strategy Officer Purva Rawal. We have Steven Chen, University of Southern California. We have an outstanding panel on advocacy with outstanding experts in NACDS. We also have breakout sessions that we're going to be covering. Doug Long and Scott Biggs will be there [discussing] pharmaceutical trends.

And then we take a pivot on Tuesday, and we'll be covering some more of the more business and operational issues, with Brian Owens there, who's been with us before; Todd Huseby and Deborah Kelly are outside general counsel on labor and employment issues. So, we're going to cover a lot. I mean, these people obviously do wear many hats in their companies, and this is a great opportunity to give them very useful, timely, and relevant information.

And then to conclude, to say also the 1-on-1 back to your first question on networking and partnership, we have the ability on Tuesday where we're going to go into 1-on-1 meetings where people can sit down and talk about opportunities. So that's really, you know, one of the critical elements of it that you're going to get formal content, business programs and breakout insights session, and also the 1-on-1, taking some of that information, and how we're going to spend it, how it can be applied to my company, specifically. So very, very rich environment for all the attendees.

Q: How have the industry shifts over the last few years changed the energy or focus of NACDS Regional?

Jim Whitman: Well, I think, obviously, the last couple of years, we were not meeting so it was great when we got back together last year, and we're just building upon that energy and synergies that we experienced throughout 2022. And especially for the regional chains. I mean, if you take a look at some of the main issues that we're dealing with today with quality of care, provider services, expansion of what pharmacists do, immunizations, with the ability to do more, you know, it really started in many ways at the regional level. They're closer, they're able to move on a dime, they're able to experiment, less protocol, less bureaucracy to go through, and they're closer in many ways to what's going on with their customers and what's happening in their communities. So, starting small and working large. The regionals really have been a great focus group for the entire industry, but even among themselves, to challenge, to take a look at innovation, to take a look at technology, taking a look at—whether it be specialty clinical care in an environment that's it's well managed, it's meaningful, you can do your quality and analysis of cost and benefit that they need. Those are really the keys to much of the success of the entire industry. And they're a very important, critical segment to NACDS. We appreciate their support. And then on a lot of issues, some of the policy issues, for example, whether it be federal or state legislation, they know their congressmen and their senators intimately when they come into the store visits, they're in the community. So, they're very critical to what NACDS’s entire overall policies and objectives are for the entire industry.

Q: What is the most exciting part of NACDS Regional for you?

Jim Whitman: I think the entire conference is really exciting. I think if you take a look at it, again, Justin Heiser with the planning committee put together really, they put together the programming, and it's so relevant to the attendees. Our attendance is excellent. We have a record number of strategic partners, outstanding regional chain representation. But the program is obviously the measure of first the committee getting together, discussing the program that it's going to be putting together the program, and then having the attendees come down and participate. And so, without all those pieces working together, it doesn't really happen. So, the most exciting part is just, again, the ability to be together to talk. I mean, obviously, many of these people know each other, there's a friendship there, both personal as well as business and that, you know, is very unique. It's also an opportunity, I think, for NACDS to kick off the year, and that's why we're doing it with the regionals because they are that important to us, and to the entire [industry]. You're setting the stage for what's going to follow throughout the year.

Q: Is there anything you want to add?

Jim Whitman: We want to convey to everybody [that] we certainly appreciate everyone who will be there, we appreciate your coverage of the regional chain conference, we are very appreciative of the opportunity to work together and work with our members. You know, there's so much going on. Really, in terms of the last few years, pharmacists and the business of pharmacy, the entire business of the industry, if you will, has really taken on greater meaning. I mean it. We've seen the value, whether it be in immunizations and COVID-19 processes, but we've also seen it in terms of constantly providing, whether it be issues of baby care formula or cough, cold medications that are going on. So, it's tremendous, you know, putting together this industry and then starting with our regionals and movement throughout the year into what else NACDS does, whether it be annual and Total Store Expo. It’s really, really rewarding, not only for us here at the association, but certainly for the attendees who come because that's the ones who are the most important customers.

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