How Has Independent Pharmacy Evolved, and Where is it Heading Next?


Drug Topics spoke to father and son pharmacist duo Grant and Austin Brown for a conversation about the evolution of the practice, the importance of holding elected officials accountable, and more.

The apple doesn’t fall far from the pharmacist tree. For Grant Brown and his son Austin, who lead the Advanced Care Provider Network in Jackson, Michigan, that is certainly the case. The father and son team went to pharmacy school more than 30 years apart: Grant graduated with a PharmD from the University of Michigan in 1983, and Austin graduated from the same school in 2017. One big change in education during those 34 years? The clinical scope of what pharmacists provide.

“When Grant was in school, the PharmD was a newer degree,” Austin told Drug Topics. “A clinical pharmacist and the expertise that they could bring to the table wasn’t as well known, so he was blazing the trails for helping other health care providers understand how pharmacists are going to participate in that care continuum. When I got out of school, that was the expectation.”

As we move deeper into the 2020s, the field is still evolving, Austin said. “Pharmacies are going to shift from a place of, ‘That’s where I go to get my prescription’ into a wellness destination that’s more than a prescription....Pharmacists, nurses, and nurse practitioners, it’s all different types of services, getting out into your community.”

“Independent pharmacy owners are really well positioned to adapt to the need of the community,” he added. Of course, that adaptation cannot occur unless pharmacy owners are acutely aware of what the needs of their community truly are. Once those needs are known, pharmacists have to band together if any real progress is going to be made. “Over the last 3 or 4 years, the pharmacy community has come together to try and right the ship,” said Austin.

One of the best ways to right the ship by fully utilizing that support within the community? Reaching out to elected officials and making sure the struggles of the pharmacy community are known by those who have the ability to make a difference. “From a legislative standpoint, there’s a chance to be very impactful” Austin explained.

Grant echoed that sentiment, saying that simply reaching out has a bigger impact than pharmacists may think. “Picking up the phone—even if it’s not talking to legislators themselves, talking to their staff or key aides in their office—is important in helping key members of the legislation help us fight this fight,” he told Drug Topics. If nobody knows what problems pharmacists are experiencing, those problems will never be fixed. “In today’s world, reaching out and pointing out exactly where pharmacy needs help is very critical.”

And reaching out with multiple hands is almost sure to be more productive than reaching out alone—that’s where American Pharmacies comes in.

“Strength in numbers” Grant said, describing one of the benefits of being part of a group like American Pharmacies.

“They significantly impacted the reduction in our cost of goods... They’ve done a great job. They offer an array of support services to help pharmacies better manage their operations and improve their bottom line. They’ve got a technology platform that many pharmacies take advantage of.” But more than just helping pharmacies on an individual basis, American Pharmacies understands the importance of foundational change.

‘They’re definitely an extension of our voice,” Austin mentions. “They’ve been incredibly helpful in legislative advocacy.”

Of course, the untethered power of pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) is a problem that everyone in health care—pharmacists included—has felt the effects of. “It’s the topic of this time,” Grant said about the impact PBMs have on the practice. “You have to be able to recognize patients on a one-by-one basis—and not just a one-by-one basis, but also their family, and what the value of that family is, and identify ways to continue to take care of them based on the overall cost.”

That, Grant and Austin said, is the most important goal at the end of the day. As both Browns say, “We’re there to help people.”

Click the podcast player above to listen to the full interview with Grant and Austin Brown now.

This content was made in collaboration with American Pharmacies.

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