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?

Editor’s note: Commitment is key

Albertsons is a standout among pharmacy operators

BY Seth Mendelson

Good for the goose, good for the gander?

Not always. Take, for example, QuickCheck, a New York area-based convenience store operation that announced in late October that it was closing its nine pharmacies in stores scattered throughout New Jersey to focus on its vibrant fresh food and beverages business.

By most accounts, the chain no longer saw the value in operating a pharmacy and, some said, its top officials have come to realize that if you want to be in the pharmacy business, it is a case of being all in or all out. They chose out.

Albertsons, who earlier this month was the recipient of Drug Store News2018 Pharmacy Innovator of the Year Award, is a case of being all in with the pharmacy. As we discuss in our cover story this month, Albertsons officials are making it clear that they are covering all the bases and leaving no stone unturned with their pharmacy operation in order to better serve their patients and maximize the financial potential of the category.

That is a hefty task. The Boise, Idaho-based chain operates roughly 1,800 pharmacies across 35 states and under 20 different banners, including its namesake Albertsons banner, as well as Safeway, Vons, Jewel-Osco and Acme operations. Thousands of pharmacists and other employees are involved in this part of the business, and the logistics of keeping everyone happy — customers and employees — is complex and confusing. Government regulations, keeping up with new technologies, and drugs and healthcare issues, including working with insurance companies, only dramatically compound the situation.

But Albertsons’ officials get the job done and, as we came to see in a few days of interviews at the company’s headquarters in Boise, they get it done by creating an intricate strategy built around teamwork. They also get it done by concentrating on “scripts, standards and service,” and paying a huge amount of attention to their consumer needs at the pharmacy.

The pharmacy operation of the future will look much different than it did just a few years ago, and even now. The retailers who stay ahead of the curve will continue to thrive in this business. Albertsons, it appears, is one of those retailers that plan on being at the forefront of this industry for the near term and well into the future. We are proud to recognize them for their efforts and many successes.


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

Innovation doesn’t wait

BY Dave Wendland

For my final Drug Store News contribution for 2018, I wanted to wrap up my series on “The ideas I haven’t thought of yet,” with a focus on the topic of retail innovation.

Each day there’s another headline announcing additional store closures, slipping same store sales, or some hot new internet start-up capturing sales from the traditional brick-and-mortar market. However, buried deep inside the newspaper – well below the fold – there’s a different kind of story. A success story boasting of creativity and filled with enthusiasm. That’s what this article is about. Innovative approaches which are exceeding expectations and captivating the imaginations of shoppers.

Who ever imagined that buying a car from a vending machine could be possible? Well, get familiar with Carvana, a leading e-commerce platform for buying, financing, and selling used cards. On December 13th the company unveiled its newest Car Vending Machine in Indianapolis joining other cities in Texas, Tennessee, Florida, North Carolina, Maryland, Arizona, Ohio, and Pennsylvania that already were home to similar seven story-high towers.

The company claims that by removing the traditional dealership infrastructure and replacing it with technology and exceptional customer service, Carvana offers consumers an intuitive and convenient online car buying and financing platform.

Where else has convenience surfaced in the physical retail space? Can anyone say Amazon Go? With reported plans to expand its network to about 3,000 cashier-less Go stores by 2021, the convenience store will truly become convenient.

If you want to see a busy retail store that still resides in many malls across America, think Lush Cosmetics. So what are they doing about it – they plan to triple the size of their average store over the next three years. This, according to reports in the Financial Post about a year ago stating, “The retailer, known for showcasing its unwrapped rainbow-hued like baked goods in baskets and on shelves at its 250 stores, is grappling with an enviable business problem: after seven years of double-digit same-store sales growth, many of its locations have become too crowded during peak shopping times.”

What is the draw? An atmosphere that is experiential, fun, and engaging. And they’re paying attention to the trends in the market by offering products free of preservatives to appeal to the vegan or gluten-free shopper.

My favorite recent example of personalized shopping is from an unlikely mass market brand…Nike. A global brand, whose famous swoosh is as recognizable across the globe as McDonald’s golden arches, the bite from Apple’s fruit, or Google’s unique typography.

The retail landscape has shifted considerably over recent years, forcing Nike to consider innovative options such as their newest flagship program. Their new store design energizes the in-store experience and offers opportunities that consumers simply can’t get online, such as testing out new products in real sporting activities before buying. Most importantly, the store also bolsters Nike’s digital strategy with full integration with the Nike app, meaning that even if customers walk out without making a purchase, their data is stored and accessible, and a path to future purchases.

And, if it’s customization that the shopper wants, Nike’s NIKEiD customization service allows customers to design shoes unique to their tastes — at a premium, of course.

Although I’m neither a fisherman nor a hunter, I love Bass Pro Shops/Cabela. Why? It’s largely because their staff is absolutely passionate about everything outdoors. They simply look like they are having a grand old time and are knowledgeable, engaging, and sincere. This winning attitude combined with one-of-a-kind displays and store imagery makes these environments nothing short of magical.

Their website boasts, “We are driven by our passion to inspire people to enjoy, love and conserve the great outdoors. We work together based on the essential values of respect, teamwork, quality and ingenuity to create extraordinary experiences for our customers and guests.” It is this unique attitude that makes their expertise shine.
Make no mistake, innovation is all around. All that a person has to do is look around at other industries and other consumer touchpoints and then apply it to the retail supply chain. Here are a few out-of-the-box examples to get your creative juices flowing. I’ll be eagerly watching to see what innovation you bring to your retail operation, your brand, or your team.

Washington, D.C. Metro
Although beleaguered by its share of challenges through the years, Washington Metro has also received its share of accolades, including best metropolitan transportation system in the country. What I believe is a learning opportunity for retail is the navigation system that makes traversing the vast subway relatively simple and painless. How can a similar navigation system be developed in the visual brick-and-mortar, virtual, or mobile space to ensure shoppers are managing their path to purchase as effectively as possible and being presented logical “connections” along their journey?

Although other frozen yogurt shops could have been cited, the concept of providing healthy choices, customization, and unique experiences describe the Pinkberry operation. Shoppers not only demonstrate their loyalty by frequenting this shop, they also engage, promote, and encourage others to experience Pinkberry. What are retailers doing today to create this type of brand advocacy and evangelism?

Certainly “please” and “thank you” matter. So does an organization that remains true to its values and extends their commitment consistently through the in-store experience, their social media, website, and all other touchpoints.
What’s most important to your retail operation? Are you so deeply committed to your core values that they are shared across all of your interactions with your shoppers?


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