January 30, 2014
In the Prairie Village, Kan., community, Bruce Smith Drugs’ delivery service is the subject of an urban legend. Rumor has it, the pharmacy would deliver a pack of gum free of charge if someone called and requested it.
Debbie Richmond, R.Ph., a third generation pharmacist and the second generation of her family to run Bruce Smith Drugs, chuckles when she hears that story. “We used to,” she said. “And you know what, if they want to pay a $5 delivery charge, I guess we’d do it today.”
While free delivery for packs of gum may be a thing of the past, Richmond has kept true to the underlying principle of outstanding customer service that has guided the pharmacy—and its delivery service—for decades.
“Bruce Smith (Bruce Smith Drugs’ founder) had a couple of ingenious ideas,” Richmond said. “One was in-house charge accounts, because they tied the patient to one pharmacy, and the other was a delivery service.”
Bruce Smith Drugs has delivered medications to patients’ doorsteps since the pharmacy opened in 1955. “We have always been a service-oriented pharmacy,” she said. “So delivery was just an added service; it went right along with the whole philosophy of the store.”
While free delivery may have been financially possible for a pharmacy in 1955, today’s lower reimbursement rates on prescription drugs changed the math. In order to continue to offer the delivery service that it had become known for, Bruce Smith Drugs had to adapt.
To keep the service profitable, the pharmacy adjusted the area that it delivered to (while still making exceptions for long-time customers of a store branch that closed) and changed its free delivery policy.
“For years we never charged for delivery, and then with the advent of insurance and low payments, we had to start charging something,” Richmond said.
“But what we do is if they purchase $15 of over-the-counter products, the $5 delivery fee is waived. A lot of people like that. Since we are a full-line store, it’s very easy for them to get other things they need. We also do not charge the assisted living facilities anything because we’re able to do four or five deliveries at one time.”
For most customers, the delivery fee is a small price to pay for the convenience. And the new policy even cut down on unnecessary trips.
“Before, we’d have people that would call us two or three times a day,” Richmond said. “Once we started charging, they got more organized in their ordering and would order three or four prescriptions at once.”
While aspects of the delivery service have been refined over the years, the focus on customer service hasn’t changed.
“For the vast majority of prescriptions, they’re out the same day,” Richmond said. “And if people call and say, ‘I really don’t feel well, can you get it here as soon as possible?’ those take priority. If people are in a time crunch or need something right away, we try to do that.”
Of course, there are times when the weather, timing or other causes get in the way. When this happens, Richmond says that timely communication is vital. “Most people are very understanding,” she said. “They know that there are times we might not be able to get it out there really quickly. Communication to me is a huge thing with our patients.”
Going the extra mile (literally) for patients has built a strong loyalty to the pharmacy. “That’s why I’m filling prescriptions for fifth-generation people, because we’ve got that reputation and have been able to maintain that high level of service,” Richmond said.
“Delivery is part of what we’ve become known for. And we love continuing on with it.”
Debbie Richmond, R.Ph., offers a few tips for running a successful delivery service.
You have to have the volume to make it worth it. “Paying for a car, the insurance and an employee to do the delivering is difficult in today’s world,” Richmond said. “If you are only going to do a few deliveries, it may not be worth the cost.”
Think big picture. “You have to think of it as maintaining your patient base. Customers who use delivery tend to stay with our pharmacy.”
Make delivery something your pharmacy is known for. “In our advertising we say, ‘Open and delivering 365 days a year.’ So, we’ve always tied our delivery service into that big motto of ours. Also, our cars are labeled, which is free advertising.”
Number of deliveries per day
Varies, between 30 and 60 during the week, 15 to 25 on the weekends.
Monday and Tuesday. Winter is the busiest season.
Cash, check or in-store charge account. Credit cards also accepted and processed before the delivery goes out.
ScriptPro’s SP Mobile Checkpoint. This wireless device can remotely capture and track signatures, HIPAA forms and patient comments. All the information gets transferred back to the pharmacy’s computer system when the device is in range.
Number of drivers and delivery cars
Three drivers (each works a different shift) and one car.
Drivers check in every hour or hour and a half. This allows the pharmacy to address urgent requests in a timely manner and plan the route accordingly. Patients outside of the delivery area know to give a few days of notice for delivery, allowing those deliveries to be streamlined.
Many older patients or individuals who can’t drive; parents home with sick children; and assisted living facilities.
Within a 20-minute drive of the pharmacy. Exceptions are made for long-standing patients or high-volume locations like nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
$5, or free if patient orders at least $15 of over-the-counter products. Free for assisted living facilities and other high-volume locations.