In this age of big box stores and online retailers, there is frequent discussion about the disappearance of small independent retailers. In healthcare, as consumers’ demands for a more modern and convenient experience grow, industry opinion has focused on the uncertain future of independent pharmacy.
Independent pharmacies are more important—and more central—to the ongoing health and wellness of patients than ever before. As the president of Health Mart, I work hand-in-hand with thousands of independently owned pharmacies across the United States. On a daily basis, I see the innovative patient-centered care that is being delivered that, above all, supports the axiom that “healthcare is local.”
The business of medicine may be global, but healthcare is local. To verify that, all we should do is look at the following statistics from such industry organizations as National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) and the National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS):
- 95% of Americans live within five miles of an independent pharmacy and these pharmacies dispense nearly half of the nation’s prescription medicines;
- Pharmacists are among the most trusted and accessible of healthcare providers;
- The average patient spends only 20 minutes a year with their doctors, but may go into their local pharmacy once a month or more.
- 75% of independent pharmacies are operating in communities of fewer than 50,000 people
The first point of care
Patient expectations about healthcare are changing, which impacts how and where they look to receive care. According to the CDC, the percentage of patients enrolled in High Deductible Health Plans (HDHP) increased from 10.6% in 2007 to 24.5% in 2017 among adults aged 18–64, resulting in higher out-of-pocket healthcare costs. As more financial responsibility gets pushed onto patients, they are increasingly managing their own healthcare decisions by looking for local providers who can deliver diverse clinical services.
When a patient visits a pharmacy, they expect the staff to “care”: to care for their health, and to care about them and their family. As the provider who often serves as the first and last point of care, independent pharmacists’ stores offer an ideal setting in which to provide community-based patient care that is professional, personalized and affordable.
Supporting the entire patient journey
Many owners have deep relationships with their local community. It’s not uncommon to meet pharmacists who have served generations of the same families in their town, who keep a 24/7 emergency line that they personally answer, and who have delivered prescription medications at four in the morning to a patient who couldn’t get to the pharmacy on their own.
Pharmacists fill a gap in today’s busy healthcare system by providing health screenings and advice on OTC medicines to treat minor ailments, as well as helping patients manage more serious conditions like diabetes and asthma. To stay healthy, patients can expect additional services, such as immunizations, nutritional support, and other tools delivered in-person at the pharmacy counter and through technology at the patient’s home.
A bright future for pharmacy
From my perspective, the endgame for the locally-owned pharmacy is not right around the corner. Despite the changes that are facing all pharmacies, community pharmacies have reasons to be optimistic about the opportunities in the coming years. Pharmacies offer an ideal setting in which to provide patient care that makes a positive impact on medication adherence, improves patient outcomes, and reduces healthcare costs. I remain impressed by pharmacists’ investment in their communities and believe that they are critical to the future of patient care.
Nimesh Jhaveri, MBA, RPh, is president of Health Mart and senior vice president of McKesson Corp.