BOSTON Painting a stark but hopeful picture of the threats that surround community pharmacy, the recently installed chief of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores called on pharmacy leaders here to become aggressive advocates for their industry and to join forces in an all-out push for respect and recognition from policymakers, patients and the larger health care community.
In his first address to attendees of the annual NACDS Pharmacy & Technology Conference, organization president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson called on those affiliated with pharmacy care to become active with the issues and to stay active. Much of the industry’s future, he said, rides on the success of public information and communications efforts, and on grass-roots lobbying for change at the federal and state levels.
"An association is only as strong as its members and any campaign needs willing foot soldiers," Anderson told conference attendees Aug. 13. "We have to speak with one, consistent voice about the value of pharmacy—to policymakers, to legislators, to opinion leaders, to educators, to the media and to consumers.
"We in community pharmacy will never earn the influence we need or the respect we deserve if we don’t do a better job of telling our story," added Anderson, who cited his own background as a Capitol Hill lobbying veteran before coming to NACDS. "With federal and state governments making nearly half of all healthcare payments in the U.S., and in an industry literally shaped by government rules and regulations, the biggest mistake we can make is to communicate too little."
"There’s no way this industry will turn around unless we push for meaningful change," said Anderson.
Using military analogies that befitted the embattled state of pharmacy retailing in 2007, Anderson invoked the Duke of Wellington, who defeated Napolean’s army at Waterloo. Like Wellington, he told NACDS members, "we have been marching toward the sound of gunfire" in recent months.
"Now, we are engaged in pitched battles," Anderson continued, over threats like declining Medicaid prescription reimbursements and a lack of influence in Washington policymaking debates over the future of health care and the role and value of pharmacy care initiatives.
For that reason, NACDS is changing under its new chief executive officer, who was installed early this year after a long search for a successor to ousted chief executive Craig Fuller. Since assuming his post, Anderson has led an overhaul of the organization to make it more responsive to challenges from policymakers, opinion leaders and others who undermine community pharmacy’s role in health care delivery.
Among the changes: creation of a rapid response system to counter misleading or erroneous information or reports about retail pharmacy, a beefed-up lobbying and public information effort to advocate on behalf of the industry and the pharmacy profession, and the acceleration of bridge-building efforts with other pharmacy and retail organizations.
"We must work closely with others in community pharmacy," said NACDS’ chief executive. "For too long, this industry did not. And you paid the price time and again when better organized associations and coalitions had better access when it came to legislation, regulations and rule-making in government."
The aim, he added, is "to fully leverage our numbers to communicate the value of pharmacy," and to "demonstrate the extent to which misguided policy decisions threaten Americans’ access to pharmacy services."
Anderson cited successful coalition-building examples. "We have joined forces to create the Coalition for Community Pharmacy Action, the Pharmacy Quality Alliance and Project Destiny, a new initiative to develop business models and communications that could guide community pharmacy’s future role in the delivery of health care. But we cannot be content to talk only among ourselves any longer. We cannot draw the line at our usual friends and industry allies."
Anderson urged pharmacy leaders "to take more risks, not only in building coalitions, but in reaching out to a broad constituency." Acknowledging that community pharmacy is "going to be on the other side of some powerful constituencies" on many issues of vital concern to NACDS members, he added, "we cannot always compete dollar for dollar or ad for ad. But we can compete on our principles…on the value we bring, and…on the image and the reputation of community pharmacy."
The process of turning back threatening regulations and policies—and of fully establishing pharmacy’s value in the minds of patients and policymakers—must start in pharmacy schools, where some 50,000 students are taking their first steps toward a career in pharmacy, said Anderson. "Few if any new pharmacists are educated in public policy as it affects the practice of pharmacy, and the critical role reimbursement, regulations and health policy will play in daily life and their professional future," he told his audience.
"Schools of pharmacy must prepare students to understand health policy and advocate on behalf of pharmacy," Anderson urged. "NACDS must lead that process, as should all pharmacy associations and professional organizations."
Anderson urged pharmacy leaders who gathered for the annual event to join in NACDS’ work to shape the debate on policy issues, and to broaden the scattered demonstration projects documenting the work of community pharmacy to enhance health care. The broad mission, he indicated, is a long-term battle against counterproductive policies.