Independent pharmacies have historically been at the center of every community across America. The go-to place for prescriptions—they were a place where owners looked out for their neighbors and tried their hardest to keep them healthy and strong.
Independent pharmacies still exist, but they’re getting harder to find. Between 2011 and 2017, the number of independent pharmacies in the United States dropped 5.3% to fewer than 22,000, according to NCPA Digest. At present, community pharmacies represent only about 35% of retail pharmacies.
There are a number of reasons for this trend. Independent pharmacies are often overshadowed by pharmacy chains, grocery stores, and discount retailers. Community pharmacists also tend to be older and close their stores when they retire. Pharmacy owners face lower margins from traditional services, which discourages new pharmacists from starting their own business.
As the number of independent pharmacies decline, it’s likely that a portion of younger people have never experienced the high-touch services they provide. To engage these consumers, independent pharmacies must use technology to help them thrive and grow.
Leveling the Playing Field
Connecting with new, prospective customers, regardless of their age, is a major challenge. National chains have seemingly unlimited marketing budgets. They are investing in technology that makes them more efficient and to enhance communications with patients. To set themselves apart, independent pharmacies must employ similar digital technologies to connect with patients, while still providing the personal touch that sets them apart from mega retailers. Tools such as secure text messaging and video chat can help pharmacists acquire new customers, engage existing patients, and collaborate with prescribers to keep patients coming back.
Patients want to receive text and email reminders about refills or the need to follow up with their prescribers. They want tools to reach their pharmacists via text messages or live video if they have a question about a medication or need to leave a message. They want a pharmacy website that makes it easy to find the information they need and stay up-to-date on the latest offers, services, and trends.
Patients also look to pharmacists for counseling and clinical services. By using technology, independent pharmacies can connect easily and securely with patients to improve their operations.
Differentiating the Independents
Introducing new technology can seem overwhelming. But in a hypercompetitive environment, it is imperative for independent pharmacies to seriously consider integrated solutions to make life easier for everyone.
Here are four questions to ask to determine which digital tools to implement first:
- How can my pharmacy use this to acquire new patients?
- Can it be used to engage existing patient populations in a secure way?
- How much training is required to implement it into the workflow?
- Does it integrate with the pharmacy management system so it’s easy to use?
Today’s healthcare consumers have higher expectations for care providers. With the right tools and a personal touch, independent pharmacists have the opportunity to introduce themselves to new consumers while changing their business for the good of their communities.