Independent Pharmacy: A Year in Review & Insights from Abroad

Learn how the challenges and opportunities of the last year have impacted independent pharmacy professionals around the world.

This past year has presented many new challenges and opportunities for community pharmacies across the country, and they’ve risen to each and every one with a fearless commitment to care. As president of Good Neighbor Pharmacy, AmerisourceBergen’s network of independent community pharmacies, it has been an honor and privilege to work alongside these local heroes in supporting their patients and communities at large.

The launch of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program in February 2021 marked a major milestone for the industry. The early inclusion of independent pharmacies in the national vaccination rollout was a critical step that created broader and more equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines across the United States, particularly in rural and under-resourced areas. To date, Good Neighbor Pharmacy and AmerisourceBergen have allocated over 4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses to over 1600 pharmacies. Our data show that close to 50% of individuals vaccinated by our network pharmacies live in zip codes with a high Social Vulnerability Index (SVI), according to the CDC.

With their value on display like never before, pharmacies also saw opportunities to demonstrate their clinical expertise and capabilities. The need for point-of-care (POC) testing, for example, was significantly accelerated by the pandemic. At Good Neighbor Pharmacy, we’ve helped our customers implement and market these POC programs while providing access to state-of-the-art test kits that can rapidly detect COVID-19, influenza A, and influenza B with just 1 sample. Looking ahead, new COVID-19 antiviral pills are anticipated to be available at the pharmacy counter once they are FDA approved—further positioning pharmacies to be true health care destinations with the ability to test, vaccinate and treat COVID-19 for patients. Although this is an incredibly exciting development that will offer hope, especially in the wake of new COVID-19 variants, we must ensure that pharmacies are set up, from a legislative perspective, to be appropriately reimbursed for their services.

We certainly saw legislative wins this year: In collaboration with industry partners, Good Neighbor Pharmacy and AmerisourceBergen supported the introduction and passage of bills in 10 states that represent progress in allowing pharmacists to practice at the top of their license. But despite marked success in 2021, there is more work to be done in regards to direct and indirect renumeration (DIR) reform and provider status. We will continue to advocate for state and federal legislation that allows pharmacists to administer and get reimbursed for all FDA-approved and CDC-recommended options—including authorized COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and therapies.

Looking beyond the United States., learn what pharmacies across the globe experienced in 2021.

Anders Larsson, Managing Director, Alliance Healthcare Norway

“In general it has been a challenging year for everyone, and also for us in the pharmacy industry in Norway. As a vertical integrated pharmacy and wholesaler, as well as a central part of the Norwegian health system, we are meeting patients who are worried every day, as well as our own staff that is directly exposed in the patient meetings in pharmacies. By using our good control systems, excellent routines, and fantastic dedication by our staff, we have kept all our pharmacies open through the pandemic. We have had no interruption in our commitments to the hospitals. There is no doubt that the importance of the pharmacies has again proven to be fundamental for the Norwegian health system.

We’ve showcased our ability to quickly respond to changing demand from patients, ensuring that we, as a trusted supplier, delivered COVID-19-related products such as sanitizers, face masks, and self-tests. We have had the most resilient supply in the pharmacy channel, and our team has been very responsive to changing demand.

In the coming year, I believe that we will have to manage very uncertain conditions. The pandemic is not a sprint but a marathon, and I believe we will have to get used to government-related actions for a long time. As a pharmacy chain, we are one of the most trusted players in the health and retail environment, and we should continue to build on that, being there for the patient when they need our advice and support.

I strongly believe that we can expand the portfolio of health services that we deliver, such as immunology, skincare, and medical advice. Additionally, we can work closely with [general practitioners] to ensure that the health services and availability of pharmaceuticals are simplified and easier for the patient to access. Here, there is no doubt that digital development is core to ensure we are bringing our services both in traditional pharmacy channel as well as in ePharmacy.”

Pavel Jinoch, Country Manager, Alphega Pharmacy Czech Republic:

“Although we had hoped that 2021 might be the recovery year after an unprecedented 2020, another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the opposite. Social distancing led to a significant drop in sales in the cold & rlu portfolio in the first half of the year. Increasing inflation has become an economic challenge in late 2021, so the main goal of every pharmacy was just to keep operations going. 

However, despite all the challenges—like lockdowns and other COVI-19 restrictions—our Alphega members have proved the true meaning of our motto “Close to You.” As predominantly community and rural pharmacies, they've stayed fully running and become the true first choice for their patients.

The biggest challenge but also opportunity for our Alphega network in 2022 will be entering the epharmacy market in the Czech Republic. During the last 2 years, the Czech Republic epharmacy market has grown by more than 30% each year, and currently accounts for 15% of the total consumer health market. As we believe that this growing trend will continue even in the post-COVID-19 era, our key priority for 2022 is to launch an Alphega marketplace platform that will enable all our Alphega members to reach customers seeking the convenience of buying their products online.”

Sophie Rey, Director, Alphega Pharmacy France:

“In France, the health crisis has redefined the role of the pharmacy and, consequently, the missions of the pharmacist. The pharmacy has become the most accessible and closest to the patient. Indeed, their role as health professionals has accelerated towards new responsibilities. The most striking example is the speed with which pharmacists trained their teams and organised staff to carry out new tasks like COVID-19 testing and vaccination. In a few short months, the pharmacist became a key player in the fight against COVID-19. At the same time, in order to save time and develop their services, pharmacists have also had to offer digital services to their patients. In response, Alphega Pharmacy has been quick to adapt its offering to support its member pharmacists in their new roles, through support and training for pharmacy teams, as well as by providing digital applications such as online appointment booking and teleconsultation.

Today, pharmacists are recognized as key health actors. In 2022, this opens the prospect of the pharmacist being entrusted with new missions, be it in prevention, dispensing, or patient follow-up. Providing pharmacists with the support they need to help their patients is the very DNA of Alphega Pharmacy and we will be there to help them succeed in these new roles.”