Customer Service is King: How to Make Your Rural Pharmacy Compete on a Global Scale

By Willow Becker

The future of the independent pharmacy is at a critical point in its development. Increasing competition with national brands, a drop in prescribing physicians, and the trend towards e-pharmacies and doorstep delivery of medications has eaten away at the bottom line of many local pharmacies.

Yet, despite these pressures (or because of them), independent pharmacies are developing innovative ways to maintain their market share and even increase the impact that they have in their local markets. The core of these innovations? Remembering that there is one thing that a small-town pharmacist can offer than a huge brand like Walgreens never can: personalized, attentive customer service.

1. See Customer Service as an Untapped Advantage

While a small pharmacy may never be able to compete with e-pharmacies or chain vendors on price or availability, those larger companies can not compete with independent pharmacies on elements such as medication therapy, customized compounding, and person-to-person interaction. According to the 2018 NCPA Digest, 60-79% of independent pharmacies offered unique and personalized services designed to increase quality of life in their patients.

Perhaps a correlated fact is that Medicaid data shows that high-risk patients visit their pharmacist almost 9 times more often than they see their regular doctor. That is a huge amount of influence and connection that many independent pharmacists are not recognizing as a differentiating opportunity. In the 2015 Buyer’s Guide from Consumer Reports, independent pharmacies received an “excellent” or “very good” rating from 90% of customers when it came to elements like speed, helpfulness, and pharmacy knowledge.

2. Making Your Pharmacy a Destination Experience

As an independent pharmacist, you have the power to compete with global chains, as long as you play to your strength of person-to-person connection. When patients visit your pharmacy, are they simply picking up a prescription? Independent pharmacists that are really competing are offering much more to the pharmacy experience, giving patients reasons to stay longer, increase their health knowledge, and connect with the staff. Some of these “next-level” service concepts include:

Medication Therapy Management. Good medication therapy management requires an understanding of both medication and the person to whom medications are prescribed. Pharmacies that do this well see long-term growth as patients come to rely on them for well-informed advice, akin to that of a doctor.

Delivery Services. Unlike an e-pharmacy or online prescription service, effective independent pharmacies often do more than just deliver a medication to a patient’s door. In fact, the 2018 NCPA Digest states that 71% of independent pharmacies use these visits as opportunities to educate, audit prescription uses and doses, and generally check on the well-being of patients.

Custom Compounding. High-needs patients that have a variety of prescriptions often can only get custom compounding from a local or specialized pharmacy. This is a great benefit for the patient, which they are often unaware is something that they can request.

Prevention Opportunities. A small portion of highly-effective independent pharmacies offer preventative healthcare such as immunizations, heart-health screenings, blood pressure monitoring, and asthma management. Still, for most independent pharmacies, these are untapped opportunities.  

Education. Again, while only a small portion of independents offer education like stop-smoking workshops or diabetes awareness classes, these in-person meetings can provide one-on-one connection between pharmacy staff, healthcare professionals, and patients.

3. Impacting the Community

In the 2018 Survey of America’s Physicians, a survey of over 8,700 doctors, a shocking statistic arose: nearly half intended to change careers (46%). The impending prospect of losing doctors, especially in rural areas with small communities, is a potentially devastating loss.

Independent pharmacies have a unique place in these areas, as they can act as a support for struggling doctors. A recent development has positioned pharmacies even more to fill the widening gap of healthcare need and physician access. Community Pharmacy Enhanced Services Networks (CPESNs) are being created across the nation as a cooperative agreement between community pharmacies to offer holistic services to improve the lives of their patients.

As an independent, you can be invaluable in moving these types of movements forward. Reach out to payers in your area. Make a case for the impact of your business on the local community. Share your documentation and anecdotes about how the unique services and activities have improved the overall health of patients. Then, you’ll see more reimbursements for these community-centric healthcare opportunities and better outcomes for your patients and business.

4. Identify Your Place in the Healthcare Landscape

The truth is that trying to compete with chain pharmacies in the areas of selection and inventory is unrealistic. But your unique independent business can carve an important niche in the community. By connecting with patients, offering flexible payment plans, unique items, a focus on specialty medications, or hosting events and education, you can teach potential patients that the independent pharmacy has much more to offer than simply the lowest-cost medication.

Tags: Healthcare, Pharmacy

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