PHARMACY

More adoption of technology could drive retail pharmacy customer loyalty, report finds

BY Alaric DeArment

TORONTO — More than half of U.S. consumers would not recommend a particular pharmacy to family and friends, according to a new report by a Canadian customer experience management firm.

According to the report, by Empathica, scheduled for release later this week, the 60% of consumers who would not recommend a pharmacy indicate that most consumers do not have a loyal relationship with any one chain or mass retail pharmacy despite what the firm called a "promising future" for the industry, with more than three-fifths of surveyed consumers saying they would not cut pharmacy spending regardless of the economy.

The report attributed the lack of customer engagement to a slow adoption of technology by pharmacies. Empathica said online prescription drug sales are expected to grow at a faster rate than in-store sales, but 40% of pharmacies don’t have an online presence, and among those that do, half of customers are unaware of web offerings, while less than 20% have received information or offers promoting them.

"Three-in-four customers still place and fill their prescription orders in-store," Empathica CEO Gary Edwards said. "This highlights both the lack of online pharmacy services and a low level of awareness among customers about existing services. There is no doubt that consumers are performing an increasing number of activities online — pharmacies need to get there and take advantage of digital rewards and online marketing to attract and retain customers."

Baby boomers were more likely to take advantage of online prescription services, accounting for 36% of those who manage prescriptions online, compared with 20% who are Millennials. Of the 25% of consumers who fill and manage prescriptions online, most use mobile health applications and said their pharmacies should use similar apps, but 75% of all customers reported not knowing whether such apps were available.

Empathica also found loyalty programs represented an area of improvement as core pharmacy services become commoditized. The report found that only 40% of customers were "highly committed" subscribers to loyalty programs at their primary pharmacy, with an even lower rate of 32% in mass-retail settings; 30% of consumers indicated they were always aware of coupons at pharmacies and mass retailers.

"Our research shows that customers that always use loyalty programs are almost twice as likely to advocate their primary pharmacy to friends and family when compared to non-loyalty program subscribers," Edwards said, citing respective figures of 64% and 36%. "Pharmacies that do not offer loyalty programs or targeted promotions miss an opportunity to turn customers into loyal customers and advocates."

Edwards suggested that mass retailers with pharmacies should offer "compelling" promotions and use marketing tactics like in-store coupons to take advantage of their price advantage.

"For bargain-hunting customers, promotions really help drive behavioral loyalty," Edwards said. "For chain pharmacies that cannot compete on price alone, loyalty programs give customers an incentive for returning and set them apart from other pharmacy chains that, according to our research, are often not leveraging these programs and promotions with consumers. These programs provide a powerful reason for price-conscious consumers to keep coming back."

 


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PHARMACY

Mass. governor proposes new compounding pharmacy legislation

BY Alaric DeArment

BOSTON — Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has introduced legislation that would give the state government broader power over compounding pharmacies, the governor’s office announced.

Patrick’s legislation would reform the board of pharmacy by requiring special licensing for sterile compounding; authorizing the pharmacy board to assess fines against pharmacies that violate policies while creating whistleblower protections for pharmacists and other staff; requiring licensing for pharmacies out of state that deliver and dispense medications within Massachusetts; and establishing a clear process to restructure and reorganize the board’s membership to include four pharmacists, as well as several non-pharmacists, including one nurse, one physician, one pharmacy technician, one quality-improvement expert and three public members.

The legislation is based on recommendations from the state Commission on Pharmacy Compounding, which Patrick established in October 2012 amid a nationwide outbreak of fungal meningitis traced to contaminated injectable steroids prepared at the Framingham, Mass.-based New England Compounding Center. That epidemic has sickened 656 people and killed 39 in 19 states as of Monday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"There is no action that we in government can take to prevent all abuses in all industries, but we must do what we can," Patrick said. "This legislation makes patient safety paramount and will help fill the gaps in compounding pharmacy monitoring that allowed NECC to operate in the shadows. Together, these changes can ensure that the tragic events of last fall never happen again."

In addition, Patrick will direct the Department of Public Health to increase inspection staff at the Board of Pharmacy and require that all inspectors be pharmacists with at least five years’ clinical experience, as well as additional training for inspectors working in sterile compounding. Another rule will require sterile compounding pharmacies to report volume and distribution, alerting the Board of Pharmacy when a pharmacy is acting like a manufacturer, which requires a Food and Drug Administration license.


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Athenahealth to acquire mobile health app provider

BY Alaric DeArment

WATERTOWN, Mass. — A company that provides cloud-based electronic health record, practice management and care-coordination services is buying a developer of point-of-care mobile health applications for physicians.

Athenahealth announced Monday that it would buy Epocrates for about $293 million, or $11.75 per share. The deal for Epocrates, used by more than 330,000 physicians, is expected to close in second quarter 2013, pending approval from Epocrates’ shareholders and other conditions.

"I have been an admirer of Epocrates since it first emerged and have watched the company grow consistently, one app download at a time, as it has cemented itself in to the consciousness of America’s physicians," Athenahealth president, chairman and CEO Jonathan Bush said. "No other company has been able to replicate the brand awareness, familiarity and trust that Epocrates has across the clinical mobile user base."


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