Why a consumer’s purchasing behavior of prescription medication is now the same as buying a loaf of bread. It’s no surprise that people want to get the best deal. And with today’s advancement in tech and social media, it has never been easier to find the best prices for a desired product. But, what does this have to do with pharmacy? Well, everything.
It’s why Amazon is going to be super successful in the pharmacy industry. What do you think Amazon sells? Commodities! You can read more about my take on Amazon’s Pharmacy here. Consumers today do not care about how they get their prescription medications as much as they used to. They don’t care which pharmacy it’s from. They don’t care who’s filling it or which pharmacist is doing a clinical check, the check to make sure a medication is what’s best for a patient. In general*, people just want to pick up their prescriptions in a way that’s most convenient and at the best price.
*There are outliers, like the consumer who’ll never fill a medication at a certain pharmacy because of their terrible experience (Yes, I’m talking to you CVS. I've had a personal experience with that one.) There’s also the super loyal patient that borderline stalks their pharmacist if they switch to a competitor across the street because of the great care and service provided said pharmacist provided.
A Little Context on Where I’m Coming From
I live and practice community pharmacy in Miami, FL. And I am giving my thoughts based on my experience from working at 3 different retail companies in the Broward County area all the way down to Key West, FL. Loyalty to a single pharmacy has become rare. It may be different in a small town where they have less pharmacy options available. If it is, please let me know, I’m really curious as to how it would contrast to a busy city like Miami so I’d love to hear from you.
Yes, some people may decide to fill at your particular pharmacy because you know their name and provide good service, but, for the most part, once your price changes, or they begin to have to wait a bit longer to get their medications, there’s a high possibility they’ll be inquiring next door. And while I don’t want to take away from all the talented pharmacists out there who really drive business because of their personal relationship or leadership skills, I really think this is the truth.
Is this a Problem or is it Awesome?
Well, for the patient (consumer), it seems awesome. They can choose to get their medications as conveniently as possible, and better yet, they can save money by literally walking across the street! But, for pharmacies, their employees, and patient safety, not so much.
Because of the commoditization of dispensing medications (and some other reasons) pharmacies are now barely making profits off of medications slimming profit margins. To account for this, pharmacies are now being forced to create other sources of revenue to make up for loss profits on filling prescriptions. But, it’s not going so well. Actually, on paper, it is. Profits are coming from all sides on paper. But in the trenches, day to day at the pharmacy, it’s not. It has made for an environment of increased workload for pharmacy teams with what feels like less technician labor hours due to cutting of costs. And because of the workload, it has now led to less relationship building between pharmacists and their patients, and decreasing quality of care because pharmacists now just don’t have the time anymore.
The biggest problem though, is that people are now getting medications from multiple pharmacies. A pharmacist can only run an effective clinical drug-drug interaction check if that patient fills all their medications with that pharmacy or is using medical insurance to pay for the prescriptions. But if a patient is paying out of pocket at multiple pharmacies, pharmacists can never properly address the potential for dangerous drug interactions.
How will pharmacies truly succeed in the future? How will they make better profits to keep operating effectively and have happy employees? What I can say now is, it won’t be off of the profits of selling bread…or dispensing medications.
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