Drug Topics® talks with pharmacy owner Jeff Harrell about AI pricing tools and technology in the pharmacy.
Lauren Biscaldi: All right. So, can we just start with having you introduce yourself?
Jeff Harrell: Hi, my name is Jeff Harrell, I am an independent pharmacy owner based out of Long Beach, Washington. We have about 26 locations in 3 states, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.
LB: So, first question is what has helped drive your interest as pharmacist in the adoption of technology, especially AI, in the independent pharmacy space?
JH: So, I realized many years ago that we as independent pharmacists do a really poor job at pricing our cash price prescriptions. We take into consideration a lot of emotion, we're not really looking at the market data, and our pricing can be all over the board. And I noticed that as our location started to grow that the pricing at each pharmacy was very different and really controlled by whoever the pharmacist or the technician was that was entering the data, and so I found this product with Prescryptive, this AI pricing model that we have rolled out and it is really basically helped us become more accurate I should say in our pricing of cash prescriptions. You know it uses artificial intelligence to look at market data as well as where we are at you know, on an average kind of curve so to speak. So, we started adopting that AI product recently and it's working out very well for us. It takes the emotion out, you know, and technology is… I've always said, you know, people lie data doesn't, you know, and they don't mean to lie, it's just if you don't count it quantitative and you don't know. And so, the AI product really maximizes the data and puts it in as accurate as it can be when you're out pricing for cash prescriptions for your patients.
LB: The emotion piece is really interesting, can you go into that a little more? Because I wonder, you know, independent pharmacist have such a good relationship with so many of our customers. I know I have with my independent pharmacists, what is that like?
JH: Absolutely, yeah, so the emotion piece of it is, you know, we do have that relationship with those customers and patients and neighbors and friends. And oftentimes, you know, they'll get a prescription and if they don't have insurance, we'll just go five bucks, or four bucks or three bucks or try to you know, compete with a chain is your mindset but you haven't really done the research on that drug. You know, it could have gone up in price it could have gone down in price. And so just basically picking a number out of a hat and throwing it at a pricing scheme is what the majority of independents do. I mean, there are some real sharp ones that are using their pharmacy management systems to dial in their pricing structure, but to what I've seen as we've grown to 26 locations is that's not the case in very many pharmacies. And so that emotion piece is, is you're feeling sorry for, or you're connected to, and you're pricing it at below market and you're leaving, you're leaving dollars on the table.
LB: Can you talk a little bit about how you're utilizing Prescryptive’s AI optimized pricing within your pharmacies and what benefits you’ve seen with that system thus far?
JH: Absolutely. So, we rolled that out I think in February of 2022. It was our first location. We did a market analysis. So we did our I think top 50 claims or 100 claims and ran those against what our 4 or 5 competitors were in the area and realized that we were pricing way under market. Their data analytics, their artificial intelligence rose right to the top and so what we were able to do then is identify the prescriptions we’re already filling and adjust those prices and not often or not all the time was it up, but sometimes we've adjusted it down we were out of market pricing by pricing too high. And so, what it has done though, is it has allowed us to stabilize those prescriptions we were filling and be more market competitive. We still came in under market when we repriced them, and it really has increased our revenue. I mean on those particular claims by 58%, I believe is what prescriptive is telling me and the data we're seeing and so it is, it was eye opening. But yet, very encouraging. And we had no patients leave us because again, we're part of pricing at just under market, so you're still better than your competitors around the corner.
LB: That's incredible, like it's such a great piece of technology. I'm like I almost want to go to my pharmacy when I go home be like, “Hello. Can I tell you about this?”
JH: Exactly. No, because I mean, it just takes the… we're humans and it takes that human element out. And in a market where we're getting completely pinched by PBMs. We have to be able to control our cash prescriptions to the best of our ability and make sure that our patients are taken care of.
LB: So, you know in the past obviously you’ve discussed, you've worked with the NCPA steering commission committee on innovation and technology. But right now, as an independent pharmacist, what kind of work or initiatives are you prioritizing in terms of bringing technology into your pharmacy in the coming months?
JH: Well, obviously the AI we’re going to roll out across all pharmacies. So now that we've got things dialed in, we're working with Prescryptive on getting some of the bugs worked out. We're definitely going to implement that across all of our stores. That's a no brainer. Definitely looking at, you know, clinical services and what platform that we're going to do there. We're working with Assure Care on some stuff and looking at what platform potentially would integrate or is easy to blend into workflow. I would say probably those two things, you know, we are looking at some robotics now that you know, the chains are having some trouble and we're getting increased prescription volume and we're having trouble with staffing. And so, we're looking at automation a bit. I'd say those are the probably are 3 technology things that we're focused on for end 2022, 2023.
LB: The stuff I've been reading about automation is very cool. Definitely like over my head, like I'm a words person, not a technology person, but it's like super interesting, like what you can do with our technology.
JH: Well, you know, with staff crunches we're putting a new robot in here in a couple of weeks at one of our top 3 stores and our goal is to 65% to 70% of the prescriptions will be filled out the robot. And so, then you know, we don't have to necessarily rehire we can just kind of repurpose and have, you know, have the robot pick up the just the mundane filling.
LB: What's your best piece of advice for a pharmacist who might be a little hesitant to adopt technology or AI or anything along those lines in their pharmacy? What would you say to that?
JH: To be frank, if you don't, you'll be left behind, and you're going to leave money on the table, and you're going to be struggling to compete in today's market. I think those pharmacists who are looking to transition out of their stores too in the next 3 to 5 years, need to stay up with technology, because what I'm seeing as we acquire stores, I'm seeing pharmacists that have done no technology upgrades and it actually brings the value of their store down. And I also think that the pricing part of the AI that we've discussed through this whole podcast is so important because it's an instant way to increase revenue to your pharmacy by doing the same thing you're doing every day you're just implementing technology. And like I said, our patients, you know, understand that the fluctuation and pricing is there. I mean, the drugs are like the stock market, they're going up, they're going down, they're going up, they're going down and we do have to be able to adjust and turn on a dime.
LB: So that was everything I had, but I wanted to give you the opportunity if there any final thoughts, key takeaways, anything you want to kind of end on that we didn't touch on?
JH: I just think that all independent pharmacists need to look at technology closely. AI is coming out for, you know, not just with Prescryptive other people are looking at as well. And anything that we can do to be relevant and compete in the market that we're in today, you have to look at. And, you know, obviously cost plays a big role into that. But if the revenue generation or the revenue generated from the technology will outweigh the costs every time and we're seeing it in what we're doing today.