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Merging pharmacies’ strengths with an arsenal of McKesson support tools

Steve Courtman

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“The best of a chain combined with the best of an independent pharmacy.”

That’s how Health Mart president Steve Courtman describes Health Mart’s “unique value proposition in the marketplace.” That value, he added, is defined every day in thousands of communities across the United States by the pharmacy owner-operators who serve as the most accessible and most-utilized patient care providers in their local healthcare networks.

“Local is critical,” Courtman said. “Having a local relationship with a patient is a critical component to improving patient health. Independent pharmacies have the strong relationships that can impact patient care.”

McKesson and its Health Mart support team, he added, are “providing tools for our independent pharmacies to be able to effectively have conversations with their patients about care. But, in order to do that, you have to have that relationship first.”

Courtman said establishing and maintaining those personal relationships at the local level is “very much independent pharmacy’s strength.”

Courtman spoke with Drug Store News in an exclusive dual-interview that also included Mark Walchirk, president of McKesson U.S. Pharmaceutical. Walchirk acknowledged the “tough business climate” that independent pharmacy owners find themselves in as they confront chain competitors, the uncertainties of health reform and the rise of accountable care organizations. However, he told DSN, “it’s also an opportunity to be very optimistic with ‘trends that are going to continue to drive growth for retail and independent pharmacy.’” Among them:

  • Basic demographics, which Walchirk said “are continuing to drive script growth;”
  • The continued conversion of branded pharmaceuticals to generic status, which eats into top-line sales but boosts profit margins; and
  • The trend toward accountable care and rewarding positive outcomes will be a positive impact for independent pharmacy.

McKesson’s task, Walchirk said, is “helping our customers succeed in this evolving environment by providing them with a variety of products and services to improve their pharmacy’s business health and their patient’s health.”

An example product is McKesson’s automated pharmacy management systems, which boost independent operators’ productivity and efficiency, freeing their time to provide better service for their customers.

Allying with such partners as McKesson and Health Mart, Walchirk added, becomes even more urgent in today’s fast-changing healthcare landscape, “as reimbursement moves from fee-for-service to this concept of value-based reimbursement. There’s still some questions about how quickly that’s going to happen and what that is going to look like, but certainly over time there will be a transition to more of an outcomes-based reimbursement system.”

Despite the uncertainty spawned by that fundamental shift, they remain optimistic. “When there are incentives built into the system for pharmacists to play a more active role in caring for those patients and ensuring that they are staying adherent to their medications, there is a tremendous opportunity for independent pharmacy because of the unique relationship those owners have with their patients,” Walchirk said.

Boosting patients’ adherence rates alone, Walchirk added, could generate huge returns — not just for the more than 3,100 Health Mart pharmacies, but for all independents and for a U.S. health system in desperate need of more cost-effective ways of delivering care and keeping patients out of hospitals. “Even small gains in adherence could have very positive impacts for pharmacy, patient’s health and the cost of health care in our country,” Walchirk said.

In addition, he said, the rise of preferred pharmacy networks at the hands of managed care plans will drive changes as “payers, ACOs and physician groups are looking to send their patients to locations that can care for them. And that, again, is the sweet spot for Health Mart.”

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