How Can Independent Pharmacies Employ Telemedicine to Compete With Big-chain Pharmacies?

2020 changed the way many consumers view their local corner pharmacy. As people avoided urgent care and hospital facilities during the height of the pandemic, many local pharmacies became central to all parts of the patient-care journey. From diagnosing routine illness to providing essential workers with COVID-19 screenings, and ultimately becoming distribution hubs for COVID-19 vaccinations, pharmacies have cemented their role in providing 1-stop, quality health care to patients.

Big-chain Pharmacies Are Transforming

Many of the large-chain pharmacies increasingly are expanding into providing more comprehensive clinical services. CVS has opened 1,100 MinuteClinic facilities out of 9,900 total CVS retail locations, becoming all-inclusive shops for patient care. MinuteClinics are offering basic illness diagnosis (with prescriptions if indicated), routine screenings, vaccinations, and more.

Community pharmacies in theory have the same capability. However, most independent pharmacies rarely have the resources to build and staff a complete traditional clinic on-site. Even if the funding resources are available, taking this traditional approach to compete directly poses a substantial risk to small community pharmacies.

Another traditional option, the collaborative practice agreement (CPA) has long been a tool for pharmacies. CPAs do have substantial benefits, especially in improving patient outcomes. Where CPAs fail to help pharmacies compete is that they can be difficult to execute because each state has different regulatory requirements and would require finding an off-site physician willing to collaborate.

“One-stop shops” for patient care are appealing to consumers for many reasons, including short or nonexistent wait times, affordable costs, and proximity to the patient, to name a few. It is important that independent pharmacies figure out a model that works for them to serve as a single location for comprehensive services, from diagnosis to prescription, because it provides the patient with increased access to affordable, convenient, accurate, and safe health care. It also increases customer loyalty and drives new foot traffic for the pharmacy.

There Are More Independent Pharmacies Than You Think

There is an independent pharmacy within 5 miles of more than 90% of Americans, and in many places, they are the safety net for underserved areas. Despite this, they have been overlooked and grossly underutilized.

The total number of independent pharmacies is growing each year, with these same pharmacies expanding the breadth of services offered. As many Americans discovered during COVID-19, local independent pharmacies are 10 times more likely than big-chain pharmacies to offer home delivery services. Especially in underserved areas, a local pharmacy that can offer a clinical diagnosis as well as medication would save substantial travel, time, and money – even more so for patients who are uninsured or underinsured.

Pharmacies CAN Compete With the Big Chains

By leveraging technology, independent pharmacies have the necessary tools to play an expanded role in patient care and compete directly with big-chain pharmacies like Walgreens and CVS – and gird themselves for Amazon’s entry into the market. Unlike opening a traditional brick-and-mortar clinic within their pharmacy, offering telemedicine services via a virtual clinic concept allows independent pharmacies to deliver a wider breadth of services with a substantially lower cost of entry and minimal risk.

Instead of being the last step of the health service chain, independent pharmacies can position themselves to be a complete health care solution for the patients in their communities. By capturing many of the non-emergency care patients that the big chains are also looking to engage, independent pharmacies can effectively compete with the big-chain outlets and expand their recurring-prescription base at the same time.

To provide the best quality telemedicine services to their communities, pharmacists need to choose a telemedicine platform that offers a flexible model designed with their – and their patients’ – needs in mind. Some telemedicine platforms are limited in how they provide services, what conditions they handle, or how effectively they can accommodate the workflow of an independent pharmacy and its patients. Finding a telemedicine partner that plans for the needs of pharmacies and their patients is crucial to provide the best, most comprehensive experience.

In the rapidly growing health care market, independent pharmacies are poised to play an increasingly important role. Growing competition from the big chains and new players like Amazon will continue to pose challenges for pharmacies to maintain revenue and expand their patient base. Virtual health care services can help community pharmacies compete and grow revenues – while benefiting patients and communities.