Remember that Norman Rockwell image of the friendly local pharmacist, running his shop his way? Now blink. Hey! It's still there
View from the Zoo
In June 1947, a man named Kenneth Arnold was flying his private plane over Washington State when he saw something that changed his life: a series of nine shiny flying objects that he claimed were flying around Mount Rainier at supersonic speeds. After he reported what he saw, the press picked up the story and the term “flying saucer” was born.
I understand now how Arnold must have felt when he first laid eyes on those flying objects. What I am about to tell you, you’re probably not going to believe. I totally understand. If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it myself.
The myth of right practice
Last month, deep in the heart of Bigfoot country, I witnessed something long rumored - in spite of precious little evidence - to exist. I refer to that mythological creature who has built a successful clinical retail pharmacy practice.
I know you’ve heard the whispers, the insistence that you can use your knowledge to your advantage in the world of commerce, and I know you’ve dismissed those who say such things as people who cannot accept reality.
Professional associations and academics continue to tell tales, though, in spite of all evidence to the contrary; a pharmacist can make a living, they say, by providing professional consultations and services, and not by desperately rounding up as many $1 dispensing fees as possible.
I’m here to tell you. It is real.
It’s out there
I knew something was very different about Clinic Pharmacy in Happy Camp, California, from the moment I stepped in. I was there to talk to the owner, and I figured as long as I was at the pharmacy, I’d pick up some laundry detergent and maybe a soda or two for the ride home. Except that there was none there to be sold. There was just … medicine.
No “as seen on TV” section, no house-brand beer, not even a candy aisle. Just a pharmacist who led me back to his … office.
The first thing I noticed was a wall full of back issues of The New England Journal of Medicine.
Crazy, I know. But it gets even more bizarre.
Despite its name, Clinic Pharmacy isn’t a nonprofit or charitable operation. It isn’t part of some academic demonstration project. It’s a business that aims to make money by filling prescriptions, the way CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid do. Except without a tobacco section.
I know many of you just branded me a crackpot. But it’s real.
It’s worked for 32 years
Mike Celayeta, the pharmacy’s owner and sole pharmacist, told me he spends about 30% of his time talking with patients, 10% to15% researching specific therapeutic questions, 25% to 30% general reading, and 15% to 20% with business decisions and overseeing the OTC section.
That would be two-and-a-half hours of an eight-hour shift talking to patients.
And he makes money. I’ve seen the financial statements.
In a world where Express Scripts stood toe-to-toe with the largest drugstore operator in the country and made it blink, Mike takes only two forms of insurance. If a PBM doesn’t offer him terms he likes, he simply doesn’t sign a contract with them.
Let me repeat. The store makes money. I saw new equipment on the prescription counter and not a sign of penny-pinching anywhere.
Mike’s store is for sale, but only because he wants to retire after practicing pharmacy this way since 1981, back in the days when a doctor could order that the drug name not be put on a prescription label and long before anyone had heard of, much less accepted, the mandated counseling that theoretically happens at every pharmacy counter today.
Now we know
I left the town of Happy Camp without any laundry soap and a little bit shaken, the way Kenneth Arnold must have felt when his plane touched the ground and he was about to tell his story.
I knew as I started the drive home that I had witnessed something that everyone in the profession had heard of, but practically no one had seen.
The chains may not want you to know this, but I have seen Pharmacy’s Bigfoot. It is real. And profitable.
My life may never be the same.
David Stanleyis a pharmacist, blogger, and professional writer in northern California. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.