Raising the profile of pharmacy services
Panelists emphasize the need to make value clearer
At first blush, it’s hard to understand why pharmacy needs to make its case better.
Pharmacists, after all, are highly trusted professionals who do a world of good for their patients. They are on the front lines of care.
However, pharmacy faces a range of challenges in clarifying its value to multiple stakeholders, a point emphasized during an executive panel at the 20th Drug Store News Industry Issues Summit in New York City last November. The challenges include measuring outcomes, getting payers on board, connecting better with providers, and even further engaging patients.
“How do we show the healthcare world the value of pharmacy, our pharmacists and the pharmacy services we offer?” asked panel moderator Jocelyn Konrad, Rite Aid executive vice president of pharmacy. “To me, we have to come together as an industry to clearly show how we’re driving positive health outcomes. We know that we’re driving positive outcomes, but how can we clearly define their value and tell that story outside of our industry? It’s probably our biggest challenge.”
Panelist Craig Norman, who is senior vice president of pharmacy at H-E-B, said that pharmacists are both undervalued and underutilized, but more underutilized. “I think that the public has grown in its understanding of the value of pharmacists over the years, but we’ve still got a heck of a long way to go,” he said. “We are the face of neighborhood health care, right? It’s incumbent on us to build that relationship.”
Retailers Outline Proactive Strategies
In light of these challenges, retailer panelists at the summit relayed strategies they are pursuing to further underscore the role and value of pharmacy.
One of these is to better connect pharmacy to the rest of the store, said Jeff Mondelli, vice president of pharmacy at Wakefern.
“We’ve really tried to integrate our in-store dietitians with pharmacy,” he said. “We have 222 pharmacies, and about 160 of these locations have dietitian coverage. It’s a relationship type of thing with our dietitians to really try to marry up fresh healthy foods and wellness throughout the day with pharmacy services. So our pharmacists and dietitians work together. We’ve really leveraged our core competency, which is food, with our department.”
At Kroger, having pharmacists work alongside the retailer’s nurse practitioners and dietitians is essential to delivering on its vision of helping people live healthier lives, said panelist Colleen Lindholz, president of Kroger Health. “Taking a multidisciplinary team approach allows us to put the patient in the right place at the right time to maximize their care plan” she said. “Our team of 22,000 healthcare professionals, combined with our food and grocery experts, are working on the front lines every day, helping people in the aisles, at the pharmacy counters and in our clinics.”
Differentiation in how pharmacy services are offered plays an important role for retailers, said panelist David Badeen, vice president and DMM of health care at Sam’s Club. He said most pharmacy services — from immunizations to MTM services — are widely available and not exclusive to a particular retailer. Sam’s Club puts a premium on personal interaction in delivering its services, he said.
“With us being a membership organization, we have the ability to communicate directly with our patients, probably more so than a lot of others do, because we have all the information on them,” he said. “And so what we’ve tried to do is use that information and talk to the patient, and say, ‘What’s important to you?’ So it’s that personal interaction that we keep talking about, and how do we make sure that pharmacist has that personal interaction.”
Partners Support Pharmacy Needs
Retail partners, including technology companies, are key players in supporting pharmacy and patient care. A number of these partners were summit panelists, who outlined their support roles.
Al Babbington, CEO and co-founder of pharmacy technology provider PrescribeWellness, compared community pharmacists to the first responders of California’s wildfires in 2018. The fires caused tragic deaths, and so do preventable medical conditions, he said.
“One hundred people a day are dying in this country of prescription overdose,” he said. “Two hundred a day are getting a leg amputated because they’re not managing their diabetes. And 2,000 a
day are being hospitalized for preventable chronic disease.”
Babbington asked, “Who is that first responder? It can only be that local community pharmacy,” he said. “When we focus on what we can do, it is to bring technology to support our first responders.”
Chris Jobes, sales director at Johnson & Johnson, said his goal is to support the value perception of pharmacy, which in turn will make the pharmacy business model more sustainable. Much of this work involves better connecting pharmacies with the larger ecosystem, using data and information about a patient’s journey. Jobes said succeeding with this opportunity would bring measurable benefits.
“If we do it the right way and bring the right partners together, we can go upstream from retail and add data from the health system and payers, at the inflection point where the individual transitions from patient to consumer,” Jobes said. “We can capture information on their health every step of the way because that’s where the true value lies. The data exists; it is a matter of working together in a coordinated manner. We are building for the long term.”
A useful strategy is to bring best practices to pharmacy that might have originated in other settings, said panelist Lari Harding, vice president of product marketing at Inmar, which focuses on solutions in areas including supply chain, promotions and health care.
“We’re trying to help our clients innovate by taking some of the capabilities that have been very successful in one component of our business and moving it into the pharmacy,” she said. “An example is a project that used behavioral analytics on patients with diabetes, which identified seven different personas of people with diabetes, and how you can better communicate with them.”
Another panelist, Jeff Barkoff, vice president of retail solutions at higi, emphasized the importance of supporting patient engagement within the pharmacy, and determining how to shift interactions beyond mere transactions to valued relationships.
“Ongoing engagement is really the piece that’s missing from the conversation. higi looks at how we can transform the relationship by combining the biometric screening data with pharmacy data and systems,” he said. “Combined, the pharmacist then has important insight to help guide that consumer to the right next health action. In nurturing this relationship, retail pharmacies can use repeat messages and measurements to intervene at the right time.”
Business Model Needs Focus
Panelists addressed the challenges of obtaining compensation for certain pharmacy services and offered suggestions on how to underscore the value to stakeholders, which include payers.
“We need to prove value before we can start recognizing the benefit,” Wakefern’s Mondelli said “It’s about failing quickly on things that don’t work, and scratching them off the list. And where you have traction, it’s being able to communicate that to the stakeholders it’s going to matter to. Why should I invest as a payer in this program? And if we can’t articulate it clearly enough, it doesn’t matter how well we’re doing.”
H-E-B’s Norman urged other states to follow Idaho’s lead in empowering their pharmacists. “I wish every state in our country had the foresight that Idaho has, to allow pharmacists to initiate therapy based on the result of a point-of-care test,” he said. “Allow pharmacists to adjust dosages for therapies when it is necessary. Allow them to partner through collaborative relationships with the provider community, in growing better health care in our communities. That’s where we really need to go.”
Panelists cited the importance of eyeing the big picture of pharmacy’s role, including in preventive health care.
“We are committed to changing the way health care is delivered in this country,” Kroger’s Lindholz said. “It’s all about strategic partnerships, personalization, breaking down the walls, and leveraging our unique assets and capabilities as America’s largest grocery store. We believe food is medicine. And we believe in it so much that it’s become the guiding force behind our approach to health care. There is a huge opportunity to change the trajectory of chronic disease, and we are going to be part of the solution.”
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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