“We're asking the pharmacists to be proactive in their communication rather than reactive.”
That’s Andrew Markievich, manager of pharmacy clinical programs for Ahold USA, the big Dutch-based owner-operator of such U.S. supermarket chains as Stop & Shop and Giant Food in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions. Speaking to Drug Store News’ Alaric DeArment, Markievich was describing a new campaign at Ahold USA’s more than 560 food-store pharmacies “to take a more active, deliberate role in communicating with our patients.” Ahold calls the new campaign “ACT,” for “Acknowledge, Coach and Thank.”
Encouraging pharmacists to develop stronger relationships and more face time with their patients is nothing new, of course; pharmacy operators across all retail channels have been giving at least lip service to a higher level of patient counseling and clinical care ever since patients themselves began complaining about access to their pharmacist. And many chains have gone well beyond lip service, offloading many of the steps in the Rx dispensing process to qualified technicians and company-operated central-fill pharmacies so their pharmacists can get out from behind the computer screen and interact more with the customer.
Nevertheless, Ahold’s move is another welcome sign of where retail pharmacy practice is headed. Prescription dispensing will always be the core function and sales driver at retail pharmacies, but these days, the pharmacy that treats patients as an afterthought and focuses solely on churning prescription volume will lose its customers to the pharmacist down the street who takes a minute or two to greet them at the counter, ask them how they’re doing, counsel them on their meds and their condition, and even, if needed, to step out from behind the counter and help them find what they need in the OTC aisle.
Markievich freely admitted that Ahold is taking a page from independent pharmacies, which, he acknowledges, “typically score very high in customer satisfaction.
“As owners of their pharmacies, these pharmacists make a deliberate effort to make each customer feel important and appreciated,” he told DSN. “That's been our goal and model for ACT! — encourage our pharmacists to adopt an ownership mentality and make each customer feel important and appreciated.”
How far along is the profession in its evolution from basic dispensing and counseling into a higher level of practice and patient care? Are drug store, supermarket and mass merchant pharmacies doing enough to allow their pharmacists to practice at the top of their license and to be fully engaged partners on the patient-care team? If you’re a community pharmacist, is your own company doing enough to encourage and support that kind of practice? As always, your comments are welcome.