Balancing 12 Stores in a Global Pandemic


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One multi-pharmacy owner shares how adaptability and the right set of tools set her up for success

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As COVID-19 vaccines began rolling out last year, most pharmacies found themselves in a position where they had to quickly adapt to evolving guidelines.

For Helen Clark and her business partner Dan Brown, they, too, found themselves suddenly thrust into uncharted waters. As the new owners of 12 franchise locations of The Medicine Shoppe® in central Pennsylvania and Binghamton, New York, they faced a unique situation: navigating their way through not only the challenges that came with first-time pharmacy ownership, but also operating 12 stores during a global pandemic.

Clark and Brown say they have seen and experienced more than they could have ever imagined in the past year since taking ownership of the 12 independent pharmacies, three of which are long-term care pharmacies.

During unprecedented times, they quickly had to learn what opportunities would enhance the efficiency of their operations while providing the highest and safest levels of care for their patients.

Now, Clark is sharing what she has learned with the hope that other independent pharmacy owners can benefit and continue to serve their communities with the same passion.

On the solution that helped The Medicine Shoppe® franchises:

When Clark wanted to identify additional reimbursement opportunities, she turned to Cardinal Health™ Reimbursement Consulting Services (RCS).

“One of the things I love most is the RCS dashboard, which is a tremendous help for our pharmacist managers to manage margins and compliance,” she said.

RCS creates a financial forecast with visibility into historical reimbursements and direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees. It also protects profits by catching potential audit risks before a pharmacy benefit manager does.

“At a corporate level, it allows me to get an overview of what’s going on in our pharmacies by using the numerous reports that are available,” Clark said. “It’s helped us manage our margins and reimbursements and has given me the tools needed to help coach the pharmacists on what they need to be doing daily.”

RCS also provides pharmacists with the tools they need to increase patient adherence by identifying and monitoring patients who may need help.

“We used the dashboard to be able to see how our patients are doing, all in one location,” she said. “Operationally, during COVID-19, we really enforced the use of the RCS dashboard and communicated with our Cardinal Health advisor, who did a lot of coaching with our pharmacists.”

On the biggest challenges of being a multi-store owner: “Our biggest challenge in becoming new owners of multiple stores has been COVID-19,” Clark said. “It impacted every aspect of our business, especially with our long-term care pharmacies.”

Many of the assisted living and long-term care homes that her Medicine Shoppe® pharmacies serviced were not admitting new patients during the pandemic.

“It was a challenge, but we hung in there and fought the fight,” she said. “We are still recovering from COVID-19, but we’re on the right track. You have to adapt to what is coming your way.”

One of the ways her pharmacies adapted was by relying on Cardinal Health™ Inventory Manager (CIM).

During the pandemic, several pharmacies, including Clark’s Medicine Shoppe® locations, found themselves struggling to get certain medications due to supply shortages.

As a web-based solution, CIM allows for greater visibility to — and control of — pharmacy inventory. The automated approach provides tools to help reduce excess inventory and increase turns. It also allows multiple-location pharmacies to look at inventory levels across locations and share excess medications without having to wait for additional supplies to arrive from the manufacturer.

Each of her store’s pharmacists used CIM to keep inventory in stock during a challenging period.

“I can’t imagine managing inventory without it at this point,” Clark said. “When medications weren’t as readily available [during the COVID-19 pandemic], to have CIM was a huge help.”

On thinking outside the box with vaccination opportunities:

While many pharmacies began offering COVID-19 vaccinations at their stores, Clark knew that thinking outside the box would be needed to help the communities her pharmacies served.

Her New York pharmacy became the first to offer COVID-19 vaccinations on-site, followed by her Pennsylvania stores. The pharmacists knew they needed to reach even more people, so Clark began

thinking about additional ways they could connect with residents.

“We held clinics on-site as well as at nursing homes, and we began doing home visits to administer the vaccines to homebound patients who didn’t have the ability to come to us,” she said.

Clark also began looking for ways to diversify. The pharmacies started offering other services to homebound patients, from home deliveries to flu vaccines.

“I think COVID-19 really opened up the door with those patients,” she said. “We even began helping them go through their medications and helping them to understand what their medications are for. We also started signing patients up for medication packaging through Dispill™ Multi-Dose Packaging to ensure medication compliance.”

She believes the possibilities are endless.

“Reaching out and taking care of people who are homebound and providing services that they are doing without, that’s really our future,” Clark said.

On advice for other independent pharmacies:

The pharmacy industry is tough right now, and Clark says she knows other independent pharmacies have faced similar challenges.

“With declining reimbursements, you have to find other ways to create revenue,” she said. “You have to be open-minded and willing to take risks.”

The benefits that independent pharmacies bring to the communities they serve are invaluable, Clark says.

“Just going through COVID and being there for people who weren’t even originally our customers, they now know that they can come to us,” she said.

Clark says that by adapting and taking advantage of opportunities, independent pharmacies have the ability to grow.

“Some ideas are going to work, and some aren’t,” she said. “But, when you believe in them and love giving back to your community, you can experience success.”

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