May 21, 2019
Inside: Learn how your patient needs and your business needs can work together to create a healthier community.
As a community pharmacy, your business is seen as an asset to the community—one that not only dispenses prescriptions but also a healthy lifestyle and accessible healthcare.
The top reason people become pharmacists, according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, is the desire to help people get well and the desire to work directly with patients.
But in addition to giving your time and empathy to patients, you’re also taking from them—their money, specifically. Which is what keeps your pharmacy afloat.
Generally, your business decisions and your services actually have a symbiotic relationship. Making good business decisions ultimately allows you to pass your success on in the form of higher quality care.
However, some aspects of business incentives and patient care come into tension. While you’re taking steps to make your business more appealing, it’s important to keep your patients’ health at the forefront. Keeping the business afloat is important, but as a community pharmacist you have an ethical responsibility for care.
Figuring out that balance that can be tricky, especially as a retailer. Here are some ways to walk the fine line.
Ideally, all of your patients will come into the pharmacy, pay for their prescriptions, then leave. They will have had a good experience, you will have made money, and everyone is happy.
However, in the case that patients are unable to afford their medications at your pharmacy, you’re faced with a choice.
You might decide to waive a copayment, if the practice is legal in your state. Or you could point them in the direction of a pharmacy where the prescription might more affordable under their insurance.
Though you may take a financial loss, your patient’s well-being is preserved, and your empathy and assistance will be fondly remembered. And when you save patients money, you’ll increase their loyalty and attract more patients to your pharmacy.
Here are several other ways to help patients save money and stay at your pharmacy:
On the flip side, you may find yourself in a situation where patients are clamoring to spend their money on certain items that won’t be good for them in the long run.
Products like e-cigarettes or homeopathic remedies are in high demand right now. If you wanted to, you could stock up on them and make a tidy profit. But would you feel good about it?
With products that have dubious health benefits—and the ones you know are detrimental—you might find yourself wrestling with some ethical questions.
Some pharmacists make the decision to stock these items but have pledged to be honest about their health effects when asked about them. Others keep them off the shelves entirely.
The line is yours to draw.
Impulse buys. Upselling. Product displays.
These are all methods you use every day to convince patients to spend more of their money at your pharmacy. But does that mean they’re getting what they need?
Take a step back and think about how you are implementing these tactics. You don’t have to stop marketing inside your store to be ethical, but you do have to be honest.
Do your best to push patients towards products that will bring them satisfaction. Avoid promoting niche items that they might regret as soon as they get home or products that have dubious health promises attached to them. Instead, draw their attention to products you believe in.
Each sale you make should ultimately be the patients’ decision. Your in-store retail tactics should make it easy for them to make that decision.
Most importantly, avoid the hard sell. Even if you think a product will have an enormous benefit for a patient’s health, if you end up making them uncomfortable, it’s not a sale worth making.
Having goals can be a great motivator, but setting strict quotas on services or OTC products might actually be setting you back.
When quotas are always in the back of your mind, you may end up pressuring patients into buying services or products they don’t need. While you may make a buck in the short term, this practice could be harmful over time. A Swedish study found that frequent sales goals actually hurt businesses’ profitability in the long run.
If patients spend money on a product that you recommended and then it falls short of their expectations, they’ll feel tricked. They’ll have a harder time trusting you and your recommendations in the future, and they might even find a new pharmacy.
Instead, make recommendations on a case by case basis. If there’s a product or service that you think would make life easier for a certain patient, don’t hesitate to wholeheartedly recommend it. By focusing on positive clinical outcomes, your patients will see the results for themselves and be more willing to spend their money with you in the future.
Providing preventive services at a pharmacy seems like cutting off the leg you stand on. You make around 90 percent of your money from prescription medication, after all. If you prevent a patient from needing a medication, you lose their prescription business.
For example, you stand to make a lot of consistent dollars from a patient with diabetes. If you keep their diabetes at bay with a prevention program, you’re seemingly causing your own demise.
Although in one sense that’s true, preventive care services offer the perfect balance of patient and business benefits: They provide patients with easy, affordable access to healthcare and keep them healthy (your ultimate goal!) while boosting your revenue through the preventive service itself.
A growing number of pharmacies are starting to get reimbursed significant sums for preventive services. However, for now, most patients will pay cash for them. Cash payments offer you higher margins and avoid PBMs altogether.
When it comes to cash-paying patients, you have the ability to be flexible and adjust prices to the needs of each patient while ensuring you maintain a profit.
Caring for your patients and running your business responsibly are actually tied together. If you’re struggling to make ends’ meet because you’ve made concessions with prices, whether through discounts or lower sticker prices, your service will suffer—and with it, patients’ health.
By avoiding profit losses from low prices, you can invest in exemplary service and inspire loyalty from your patients. Try out some of these strategies to make patients happy and bolster your business for the long term.
Most folks probably view picking up prescriptions as a chore rather than a destination, but you can add some excitement to take the dread away from the task.
Airlines like Southwest JetBlue have nailed this—the business is utilitarian, getting customers from one location to another—but fun has been infused into the company culture.
Southwest has its trademark funny flight attendants and JetBlue offers clever snack boxes instead of the regular pittance of peanuts and pretzels. These small, creative moves have taken the stressful experience of flying and inspired die-hard loyalty from U.S. flyers.
Take a cue from these behemoths and tweak your business to inspire more joy. It might be integrating a cute mascot into your marketing or encouraging your employees to have a sense of humor (when appropriate).
Instead of discounting large portions of your stock to draw in new customers, reward the people you know come in all the time.
Use a rewards program to identify who your best customers are, and then go out of your way to give these people a special experience.
Here are a few perks to make your loyal customers feel special:
These techniques will make your patients feel special and taken care of, encouraging them to patronize your business for years to come. They may even rave to their friends about how wonderful your pharmacy is, creating even more lifetime customers.
Patients might also associate coming into your pharmacy with good feelings if you make other, less tangible changes. There are lots of ways to add value to their experience without investing a ton of money.
Making sure that you and your team members have all the most up to date knowledge on the products you carry will prove to patients that you are trustworthy because of your expertise.
“Shoppers prefer to buy from people rather than faceless companies, so they really value it when retailers offer them expert advice,” wrote former Rakuten vice president George Chang. “This can transform the shopper and shopkeeper relationship from being purely transactional to being something much deeper and as a result can be a great way for businesses to build preference over a competitor.”
Other ways to add value include participating in community events or contributing to a charitable cause. Remember, if patients feel that you’re invested in their success, they will invest in your success in return.
PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy side of their business. The company is an independently owned pharmacy services organization based in Kansas City, Mo., that serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, expert contract negotiations, distribution services, and more.
PBA Health, an HDA member, operates its own VAWD-certified warehouse with more than 6,000 SKUs, including brands, generics, narcotics CII-CV, cold-storage products, and over-the-counter (OTC) products.
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