Jill Sederstrom is a Contributing Editor
Success depends on marketing, relationship building.
More than 280,000 pharmacists have been trained to administer vaccinations, according to the American Pharmacy Association.
But as more pharmacists join their ranks, the competition among chains, and independent stores offering vaccination services also grows.
More patients than ever are turning to pharmacies for their vaccinations. In 2017, 28.2% of those who received the flu vaccine reported getting it at pharmacies or other retail stores, according to the CDC.
As more patients turn to pharmacies for their vaccination needs, pharmacies offering standard immunizations who want to remain competitive in the saturated market will need to employ new tactics and strategies to attract customers, while ensuring that operations remain efficient.
Targeted Marketing Campaigns
As the number of pharmacies offering immunization services increases, pharmacies will need to be more proactive in securing their business.
“Marketing is key, I mean you’ve got to market your service. Historically, pharmacies have not done a great job of marketing their nondispensing patient care services,” says John Beckner, RPh, senior director of strategic initiatives for NCPA.
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“The pharmacy needs to let the medical community in their particular area know what they are doing because probably in most cases the physicians are not offering that service.”
Rather than waiting for business to walk through their door, pharmacy owners recommend trying to solicit business from targeted patient populations whether its assisted living centers, area employers, or church groups.
“As our market-our pharmacy market-got a little bit more competitive and the big box chains started to pick up and do this, then I started reaching out to businesses and local events to come in there to vaccinate their employees, or to be in certain areas where there were going to be big groups of people,” says Chris J. Meyer, PharmD, a pharmacist at Medicap Pharmacy in Austin, MN.
Establishing solid relationships with area employers can be one strategy to maintain business year after year. Meyer, who says his pharmacy peaked in 2009 administering close to 6,000 vaccinations that year alone, says many of the businesses he visits to provide vaccination services, either before or after normal operating hours, continue to call him each year.
Meyer also sent letters out to childcare centers, school nurses, and others in the community when his pharmacy began doing flu and strep tests to increase awareness about the full-range of services offered at the pharmacy.
Dennis Song, RPh, owner of Flower Mound Pharmacy in Flower Mound, TX, has been offering vaccines at his pharmacy for 21 years.
“We were very proactive from day one,” Song says.
The pharmacy began by offering off-site clinics for employers and community organizations Song already had an established relationship with, including his church, lawyer’s office, and accountant.
Over the years, the pharmacy has also partnered with cleaning companies, area school districts, or senior living homes to offer clinics for their employees.
“We had to get niches because when it was saturated and the Walgreens of the world, when they were giving flu shots in August and everybody was getting theirs, we created a niche for ourselves,” he says.
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The pharmacy also offers pediatric vaccinations to distinguish itself from its competitors.
From the start, Song says his pharmacy also worked to establish relationships with area physicians, many of whom still refer business to the pharmacy today.
“There’s a lot of competition at least in the Dallas area, and some of the physicians are getting out of these services. So because we have such a good relationship with them, they call us and say, ‘Hey, do you want this clinic?’ ” Song says.
Bruce Kneeland, a consultant to independent community pharmacies, says one of the biggest hurdles for many pharmacies is still the fear that they will upset physicians by offering vaccinations. However, pharmacies need to be proactive about meeting with physicians and communicating their desire to be partners in healthcare rather than competitors, he says.
Maximizing Your Patient-Base
In addition to targeting new niches, pharmacies can also increase the number of immunizations they do by focusing on their existing patients.
Laura Patterson, PharmD, owner of Hale Center Clinical Pharmacy in Hale Center, TX, says they use several strategies to look for vaccination opportunities among patients already enrolled in other pharmacy programs.
For instance, every month before her technicians call patients in the pharmacy’s medication synchronization program to review their current medication list, they also evaluate whether they have outstanding vaccinations that could be completed.
The same strategy is used to remind customers about the pharmacy’s diabetes education program and medication therapy management patients.
If a patient is identified who may need a vaccine, the pharmacy then is able to deliver the vaccine when the customer is already planning to come into the store to pick up their medications.
“Those are our very targeted marketing strategies that I feel have been the most effective,” she says. “It has helped us too grow our immunization program as much as we have.”
Establishing Effective Work Flow
For pharmacies to take full advantage of the benefits of offering immunization services, they also need to ensure that their pharmacy is able to deliver the vaccines in an effective way.
Lisa Petersen, vaccine program manager for McKesson Pharmaceutical Solutions and Services, says pharmacies need to establish a process and work flow that works best for them, even if its something simple like delivering the vaccines in a designated spot in the store so that you are not creating backflow. “It’s building your own tool kit,” she says.
Kneeland says one key to establishing effective work flow is by enlisting technicians or other members of the pharmacy staff to help with some of the tasks that don’t involve administering the vaccine. “They have to have a nonpharmacist trained to do the paperwork,” he says.
When a pharmacist is with a patient, the pharmacist should use that opportunity to review the patient’s vaccination history and suggest other immunizations they may also need. At Patterson’s pharmacy, vaccinations are viewed just like any other prescription and are treated much like a prescription is treated when the customer is waiting in the store.
“The techs get the consent and disseminate the vaccine information sheet and get the vaccine run through on their insurance to be sure it’s covered,” she says. “They cover all that and then it comes through to the pharmacist.”
Once the pharmacist is involved, they review the vaccine, make sure the customer has the education they need, and administer the vaccine.
There are other staff considerations as well. Meyer says his pharmacy frequently provides off-site immunization services for businesses or other community groups. To accommodate this, on Monday, Wednesday and Friday the store has three pharmacists on duty, giving him an opportunity to leave the store if necessary.
Administration of Vaccines
Now that customers have more choices when deciding where to get their vaccines, pharmacies also need to put effort and energy into ensuring their environment and process is customer-friendly and appealing. In addition to having a private area to administer vaccines, experts say pharmacists need to have a good bedside manner to make the experience as pleasant as possible for an array of customers who have different comfort levels with shots.
Meyer says pharmacists should develop a really good technique for giving a shot, and be empathetic and sympathetic when patients voice concerns, such as if they are having a negative reaction after the shot is given.
“Sound like you care-and you really do care-and maybe you’re going to go that extra mile to help them out to try to get this reaction or whatever they are having resolved,” he says.
As more pharmacies and retail stores begin offering vaccination services, pharmacies can stay competitive by finding ways to distinguish themselves from the pack to keep old customers coming back and new ones entering the door.