Editor’s note: Merging of the minds

The GSK-Pfizer deal will level the playing field between retailers and this soon-to-be powerful supplier

BY Seth Mendelson

Got a headache? There’s a good chance you may turn to Advil or Excedrin for relief. Looking for a good toothpaste? Sensodyne may be the answer. Tummy problems? Tums always is at the forefront of consumers’ minds. How about a multivitamin? Centrum is a market leader.

These are some of the many well-known and respected brands owned by either GlaxoSmithKline’s or Pfizer’s consumer healthcare divisions — and a reason for the surprising, but not totally unexpected, mid-December announcement of the merger of the two. The all-equity deal probably should close later this year, with GSK controlling a 68% share of the new company.

Just like major retailers across the nation — and many may say around the world — manufacturers are aware that they have to combine resources in order to survive the quickly changing retail landscape. This merger, which creates a company with nearly $13 billion in annual sales, will help level the playing field with retailers that are taking their own steps to ensure survival in the coming years.

With all the talk of private label and store brands, trusted national brands produced by companies like GSK and Pfizer still remain the backbone of any mass retailer’s operation. Merging two giant operations will create synergies that will save money and muscle that can be used in negotiations with retailers for better deals, more shelf space and greater visibility within their stores.

But make no mistake about it, this merger is a Wall Street powerplay at heart. The combined company initially will save a boatload of money for both GSK, based in the United Kingdom, and New York-based Pfizer. The plan, company officials said, eventually is to, perhaps in as little as three years, take the new company public and allow both giant companies to take their newfound savings and concentrate on what they do best and what offers the best margins: the pharmaceutical industry.

And take this to the bank as well: This will not be the last merger of businesses among the big players in the consumer healthcare and pharmaceutical industries. Rather, this will serve as a sign that getting bigger is vital to any company that wants to thrive in mass retail in the years ahead. Expect more deals in the coming months and years as other companies try to position themselves as key players in the industry.

Yes, my friends, the retail battlefield is heating up. Hang on to your seats and get into position to maximize these changes.


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Which area of the industry do you think Amazon's entry would shake up the most?

Exploring retail responsibility, consumer trust

BY David Orgel

Supermarkets and other retailers don’t typically get pulled into the increasingly polarized national political dialogue. Stores are typically places to escape the political and media blitz by strolling the aisles for eggs, paper towels, beauty items and pharmacy needs.

So it was surprising to see supermarkets cited on a roster that spotlights “the year’s worst actors in the news media and anyone else who interfered with a free press.” The New York Times’ Mediator, Jim Rutenberg, wrote an opinion piece in late December called “The Top 18 Media Grinches of 2018.” Not surprisingly, the roster was filled with politicians and media giants.

But retailers?

The article put supermarkets on its list, and it read this way:

“Long before Twitter and Facebook, the magazine racks in supermarket checkout aisles were the original platforms. In 2016, those racks featured covers of The National Enquirer as it pilloried Hillary Clinton with false allegations that she had covered up a “child sex scandal,” committed treason and was hiding a deadly illness (from which she seems to have miraculously recovered).”

The piece went on to more directly implicate supermarkets.

“The supermarkets arguably played as much of a role in spreading politically motivated misinformation as any online entity swarmed by Russian bots.”

First, let me get something out of the way. I don’t care if you voted for Clinton, Trump, or George Washington. This is not a column about politics. Neither is it specifically about the actions of the National Enquirer, published by American Media, which has been in the news lately over a number of alleged controversies related to the 2016 election. I’ll leave it to others, including the Enquirer’s readers, to evaluate those details.

Instead, my point here is about retailers. I feel it’s going too far to place blame on retailers for selling a specific “supermarket tabloid” at the checkout. Supermarkets were not intending to play a political role. It’s ludicrous to put supermarkets and “Russian bots” in the same sentence. Moreover, tabloid readers have always understood they aren’t exactly getting a fully journalistic or objective version of events.

That said, this topic is still important for retailers to explore. That’s because they are likely to be pulled even more into the spotlight on many issues in this 24/7 news and social media cycle. How can they deal with these types of situations and make sure to retain the trust and respect of their shoppers? Do they need to police everything they sell and pull products in advance that might potentially offend?

I turned to an expert on the topic of shopper trust, Charlie Arnot, who is CEO of the Center for Food Integrity.

Arnot said retailers need to avoid overreacting in cases like this. “It’s not the retailer’s job to censor unless something is immoral or illegal,” he explained. “If a retailer decides an item is what shoppers want, then I see no problem keeping it.”

He emphasized that retailers need to offer choice, but also to let consumers make decisions for themselves.

Interestingly, Arnot said today’s “increasingly tribalized nature of communications” will put retailers more in the spotlight. He’s referring to a growing number of narrow-focused and even obscure issues and media outlets. Retailers will need to decide which topics are relevant to the broad base of their shoppers, “because you can’t respond to everything.”

The tabloid case may be an extreme one, but it’s instructive. Retailers need to stay on top of what’s really important to their customers. The rest is just noise.

David Orgel is an award-winning business journalist, industry expert and speaker. He currently is the principal of David Orgel Consulting, delivering strategic content and counsel to the food, retail and CPG industries. To read last month’s column, click here.


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Which area of the industry do you think Amazon's entry would shake up the most?

Patient-facing pharmacies: Technology for enhanced engagement

BY Craig Ford

With physician shortages in both primary and specialty care, doctors can be tough to access. We’ve all had that experience—many of us, multiple times. Pharmacists, on the other hand, play a key role in care delivery as patients can walk right up to the counter with a question without an appointment. They are the most accessible health care providers, with 93% of Americans living within five miles of a community pharmacy. These face-to-face communications with local pharmacists are particularly important today as online pharmacies target consumers with individualized prescription and non-prescription medication delivery. But how well are pharmacists equipped to address this need for meaningful interactions with patients?

There’s a lot of pressure on pharmacies to fill prescriptions quickly and serve a high volume of patients. Pharmacists also must mitigate compliance and fraud risks to maintain safe prescribing practices. These are tall orders, especially when they’re tasked with maintaining open lines of communication with all patients — specially fragile and chronic-care ones — in daily operations.

The industry must move toward enabling pharmacists to deliver enhanced engagement with patients, and technology innovations in the pharmacy workflow and management can go a long way to making this happen. For example, contributory databases can facilitate information sharing for a broader view of patient cases; lifestyle data analytics can offer unique insights about patient behavior and adherence; and portals can drive patients to make proactive health decisions and encourage deeper communication with pharmacists and other providers.

In the following sections we will look at three important ways that technology can help pharmacists deliver a more personalized level of care without jeopardizing their efficiency.

Increase medication adherence
Medication non-adherence is a big problem in care management and it is a drain on our healthcare system, leading to increased utilization, preventable hospitalizations and development of comorbidities. Between $100 and $300 billion of avoidable healthcare costs have been attributed to nonadherence annually.4

Pharmacists can help increase medication adherence by paying special attention to patients who are most at risk for non-adherence. It is known that social determinants of health (SDOH) – the conditions in which people are born, live work and age – account for as much as 80 percent of patients’ health status.5

The simple question most commonly asked across the counter: “Any questions about this medication?” will not facilitate a fruitful dialogue.

Technology integrating SDOH data into the patient profile can help pharmacists determine relevant information about patient challenges to adherence and address both personal and disease-specific concerns in an individualized manner.

By asking open-ended questions with a listening ear, pharmacists can try to identify problems the patient may face. For example, a study found that cost-related non-adherence was common in diabetics: half of all diabetes patients were under financial stress, and 20 percent reported financial insecurity with healthcare and food.6

The SDOH impact here is clear, often bringing complications to chronically ill patients that hasten standard disease progression. In this case, the pharmacist could use this information to approach the prescribing physician about lower cost alternatives. Similarly, by talking with the patient, the pharmacist may determine he lacks a reliable transportation means to pick up his medication. The pharmacist could help schedule a ride-share or other method for the following month.

Share prescribing history for better care
One of the biggest challenges pharmacists face is incomplete access to patient prescribing history. Without the transparency of data about medications, a pharmacist does not have the “big picture” regarding patient health and adherence. Especially in cases of controlled substances, the pharmacy industry must prioritize the sharing of data for patient safety. Think of the value: the system would flag if the patient had previously been prescribed opioids, and more specifically, if the patient filled a script very recently at another retail chain.

With a true contributory database, pharmacists would get a much broader, more holistic view of the patient enabling them to provide better patient care. The pharmacist can engage the patient about how this encounter on the healthcare journey fits into the entire spectrum of care. With increased patient understanding, all care providers can expect improved outcomes.

Identifying the patient correctly
When a pharmacist consults with a patient about a prescription, he or she is often looking at a patient record—or a group of records— that may be missing vital pieces of information, such as a middle name. At the same time, the record may be filled with misspellings, demographic errors, or duplicates due to lack of standardization between healthcare systems and data entry mistakes. There can be hundreds of patients with similar names and birthdates in electronic medical record systems. Without an updated and accurate look at the right patient’s complete and correct medical history, the pharmacist cannot, with confidence, consult on the case.

Accurate patient identification — and more specifically, identity management — is at the very heart of patient care and requires innovative approaches to handle correctly and efficiently. To ensure safe prescribing and care, patient records need to be cleansed, duplicates removed, and missing pieces of information filled in. Mismatched files along the entire care continuum only open the door for medical errors that can have devastating consequences. Introducing a universal patient identifier will help increase sharing of patient data, improve patient record linking between disparate data sources and prevent medical errors.

Patients expect identity accuracy and integrity of their records at every pharmacy interaction; they are healthcare consumers with a sea of options and a list of expectations for both their clinical and customer experiences. They want fast and convenient access to their own correct and complete medical data and to the providers’ service options.

That means that top-notch provision of care includes not only meeting clinical demand, but also meeting the demand for technology solutions that facilitate access and accurate records matching. By implementing such technology tools strategically into the workflow, pharmacists make themselves more available to patients. By accurately identifying patients and listening to and understanding their difficulties, pharmacists provide help that makes a real difference in people’s lives. This is how successful pharmacies stand out from the crowd.

Craig Ford is vice president of the Pharmacy Market at LexisNexis Risk Solutions


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Which area of the industry do you think Amazon's entry would shake up the most?