May 14, 2020
Inside: What states’ reopening plans mean for how you operate your independent pharmacy.
People have been hunkered down for two months to protect themselves against the coronavirus pandemic. As of mid-May, most states in the U.S. are moving to re-open their economies. People are beginning to venture outside their home and resume some of their normal day-to-day activities.
But the fact that restrictions are starting to loosen up doesn’t mean that the coronavirus is no longer a threat. Instead of returning to the way things were, businesses like your independent pharmacy will have to define what the new normal is. As patients attempt to resume their normal lives, you’ll still have to take precautions to keep them safe.
A coronavirus vaccine may not be widely available for months, or even years, and until then, COVID will continue to loom. Here’s how you’ll have to adjust your pharmacy business for the long term to keep your patients safe.
Many states are in the process of reopening their economies, but that doesn’t mean you can go back to operating in the same fashion you did before the coronavirus pandemic.
Most cities and states are opening in multiple phases, which include regulations on how many people are allowed inside businesses and other safety precautions that must be taken. These rules even apply to businesses designated as essential like your independent pharmacy.
Stay tuned in to health and safety recommendations on a national, state, and even local level. Check the CDC’s website frequently for updates, and make sure you’re following all the rules set out by your local health department. The NCPA has created a coronavirus information page with the most up to date information for independent pharmacies specifically.
As an essential business that remained open throughout the crisis, your pharmacy doesn’t have to deal with some of the sticky questions surrounding reopening that other retail businesses do. Even so, you should still keep in contact with patients about what to expect when they come into the pharmacy moving forward.
Use email and social media to keep patients in the loop. Update them if hours are changing, or if they need to take any special precautions when they enter the pharmacy.
Proactively let them know not just that you are following federal, state, and local safety regulations, but how you’re implementing safety measures the pharmacy. Also detail the safety measures you’re using to protect employees.
The pandemic has interrupted supply chains, so if you’re experiencing shortages or backlogs, let patients know how you’re addressing those issues. If patients have concerned, make sure someone is available to field questions by phone or online.
While you and your staff members may be eager for things to go “back to normal,” some of the changes you made in the pharmacy as COVID-19 began sweeping across the country may be changes for the better.
Curbside pickup implemented to minimize contact with patients creates convenience even if there isn’t a pandemic happening, and patients will be dismayed if that perk disappears. If you expanded your delivery services, continue to promote it to your patients.
In order to minimize the number of times they had to visit the pharmacy, some patients may have signed up for med synchronization services for the very first time. Encourage patients to stick with it — since med sync increases adherence, it also helps your pharmacy remain profitable.
Coronavirus created new demand for certain front end merchandise, and until there is a widely available vaccine, you’ll want to continue to keep those items in stock. Though there may not be the same urgent frenzy as there was at the beginning of the outbreak, patients will still be on the lookout for products like hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, thermometers, and pulse oximeters.
If you were marking out six-foot spaces on the floor with tape to encourage patients to maintain physical distance, consider investing in some more polished, professional-looking signage.
Even if there are no state or local requirements for people to wear masks in public, you can encourage or require pharmacy visitors to wear masks while they’re in the store. Some people might find the requirement to be annoying, but it will make patients with pre-existing conditions feel safer when they make the trip to the pharmacy.
If you installed plexiglass barriers at the pharmacy counter, don’t take them down yet. And if you have the right technology at your point-of-sale, encourage patients to use contactless payment methods. It may be a new practice for some people, so create a sign with visuals to demonstrate what they need to do.
In the post-COVID era, customer service may take a different form than retailers are used to. Before the virus, if a staff member approached a patient and had a conversation about what they were looking for, it would be viewed as helpful and attentive. Now, the same behavior might spook patients and be seen as an invasion of their personal space.
Pharmacies will have to rethink what their customer service looks like, while still striving to be helpful and quick to respond when a patient has issues. Make sure your aisles have clear signage that indicate their contents so patients can find things easily without having to ask for extra assistance. Make sure your website is fully updated and contains information about all your services so patients can do all their research before they enter the pharmacy.
For patients who still want or need assistance from an employee, consider creating a dedicated “help desk” and install a staff member there to answer questions or give directions. Place the staff member behind a table or counter to build some distance, which will make patients feel more comfortable and keep your employee safe.
Even though you are physically keeping your distance from patients, there are still plenty of ways to show patients you care.
PBA Health is dedicated to helping independent pharmacies reach their full potential on the buy side of their business. The company is a member-owned organization that serves independent pharmacies with group purchasing services, expert contract negotiations, proprietary purchasing tools, distribution services, and more.
PBA Health, an HDA member, 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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