March 23, 2021
Inside: Use your community connections to your advantage to take on trendy digital pharmacies.
In a troubling trend for independent community pharmacies, digital pharmacy operations are attracting investments from venture capitalists. Last November, online retail giant Amazon announced that it would launch Amazon Pharmacy after acquiring the digital pharmacy PillPack, and it’s not the only operation trying to get a foothold in the digital pharmacy space.
So what is a digital pharmacy, and do you need to be worried?
As reported by Drug Channels, the primary function of a digital pharmacy is to provide home delivery of prescriptions. These pharmacies often have a single brick-and-mortar store so they can maintain relationships with PBMs, but the main appeal is the flashy apps and online interfaces that patients use to schedule deliveries and order refills. Some also give patients the option to do telehealth consultations with prescribers.
But even though money is being poured into these operations, that doesn’t necessarily spell doom for traditional, brick-and-mortar community pharmacies. Despite the slick technological assets of digital pharmacies, there are still advantages that come with interacting with patients face-to-face at your independent pharmacy.
Market these strengths to your community to thrive against the competition of digital pharmacies. Here are just a few ways you can maintain your edge.
Digital pharmacies may be able to get prescriptions sent in the mail in a timely manner, but they can’t immunize a patient through the postal service.
Your in-person services are your biggest advantage over digital pharmacies. Lean into them in your marketing.
These services are also a great way to win back patients who may have been tempted to switch over to a digital pharmacy. Even if they are getting their medications delivered, they have to get their flu shot somewhere.
By marketing your pharmacy as a hub for health services, you have the opportunity to turn one-time visitors into repeat patients. When patients come into the pharmacy for the first time for an immunization or A1C test, make sure to let them know about the ways your pharmacy can go above and beyond for them if they switch their prescriptions over.
If you don’t offer these services, you’re missing out on your best advantage over digital pharmacies.
Replicate the appeal of digital pharmacies by making sure your pharmacy has a solid digital presence.
If the main draw of digital pharmacies is a sleek app, make sure that you have a modern mobile app for your pharmacy as well. Your pharmacy app should have features like:
In addition to looking good, your app must also be easy to use. If the app is confusing to navigate, you won’t win patients over with it.
Remember, too, that not every patient will want to download an app, but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to interact with you digitally. In addition to a mobile app, put in the legwork to ensure your pharmacy website has those important refill features and that it’s easy to use on both desktop and mobile devices.
Sure, Amazon is sitting on a goldmine of data about everyone who’s ever used the website, but they will never know your community like you do.
Take advantage of the fact that you know your patients and develop niche services that serve their needs specifically. If you know your patients are crazy about their pets, make sure to offer veterinary medicine. If you have a population with a high proportion of diabetic patients, develop a comprehensive diabetes care program.
Digital pharmacy programs can’t tailor their services to every community without facing an uphill logistical battle, but for an independent, it’s simply a matter of recognizing the need for a service and working to implement it.
On top of building a niche, when you’re interacting with patients in person, go the extra mile to find out about their needs and point them to the products and services to create a rewarding visit.
The delivery aspect has made digital pharmacies especially popular in the past year, but you can compete on this front as well.
Spotlight your prescription delivery services in your marketing to let your patients know that it’s an option. This is also a great opportunity to promote your med sync services — not only will patients get prescriptions delivered to their front door, they’ll get all their prescriptions for the month at one time.
You can also create a huge value-add by letting patients add front-end items to their prescription delivery. A digital pharmacy may have a limited selection of non-prescription add-ons, but by making your whole front end eligible for delivery, you have an edge. Patients can get their prescriptions delivered alongside some much-needed toilet paper, plus a few of their favorite snacks.
One way digital pharmacies are blazing a trail is through telemedicine offerings that connect patients directly with prescribers. Instead of going to a doctor’s office and having a doctor recognize the need for a specific medication, patients who know what kind of drugs they need can get connected with a prescriber through the digital pharmacy.
Although that’s not something that’s easily replicable in the independent pharmacy, you can still work to build relationships with doctor’s offices and other prescribers in your area. This way if a patient needs an inhaler refill, but doesn’t have a regular primary care physician, you can make a recommendation for a prescriber that you know will be able to take care of their needs.
Cultivating relationships with prescribers can also strengthen your pharmacy in other ways. If you recommend patients to prescribers, they will recommend patients get their prescriptions filled at your pharmacy. In addition to competing with digital pharmacies, you’re also creating a potential stream of new patients.
PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy side of their business. The member-owned company serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, expert contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, distribution services, and more.
An HDA member, PBA Health operates its own NABP-accredited (formerly VAWD) 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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