Profiles of Four Travel Health Clinics

April 17, 2019
Joan Vos MacDonald
Volume 163, Issue 4

The strategies these pharmacists followed to succeed.

Adding a travel health clinic can be a good way for some pharmacies to boost revenue and, at the same time, offer a valuable service to the community. Customized travel consultations, which often include immunization and medication recommendations, can expand the services offered to existing customers, while potentially attracting new ones. 

What works and what doesn’t? Every pharmacy is different, but the stories of four pharmacists who successfully opened travel health clinics, may inspire similar success. Each pharmacy offers advice based on what they learned.

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Katterman’s Pharmacy 

Seattle, WA

Set up a travel aisle to maximize profits.

 

When Katterman’s Pharmacy began offering travel health services five years ago, cofounder Beverly Schaefer, RPh, was surprised at the demand and its positive effect on revenue. “It has been hugely profitable for us,” Schaefer says. “We did over 12,000 immunizations last year, that’s 33 immunizations a day, so we’re busy.”

The idea for the clinic evolved from the vaccination services already offered. “People would see we were doing flu shots and ask, ‘Can you do a tetanus shot?’ ” Schaefer says. “Yeah, we can do that. ‘Can you do a hepatitis A shot? Can you do typhoid shot?’ We started doing everything.”

Eventually, the pharmacy set up an appointment-only clinic for one-on-one consultations.

“We review the health history and travel itinerary, and make recommendations for staying healthy while traveling. In Washington, pharmacists have prescriptive authority, so we can also write prescriptions.” 

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Travel prescriptions are sometimes needed for prophylaxis malaria medications or emergency antibiotics for food-borne or water-borne bacteria. Travelers seemed willing pay for this service, as an out-of-pocket expense. Charging $49 for a half-hour session, Schaefer found that because people often travel with a companion, they sometimes visit the clinic together.

“While it’s more work to look up two histories, they will have the same itinerary, so there’s the potential to earn $200 for just travel consulting, and that’s in addition to immunization and prescriptions.”

Many visitors have been so satisfied with the service, they return with trip souvenirs, which Schaefer displays. 

To offer the benefit of one-stop shopping, the pharmacy set aside a travel aisle. “We can walk down the travel aisle and do over-the-counter recommendations, so the patient gets more than a prescription medication and immunization. That’s what makes a pharmacy travel clinic unique. If you go to a doctor, you can get shots. REI has travel stuff. If you go to a pharmacy, they have over-the-counter stuff. But a travel clinic with a travel aisle has everything all in one place,” Schaefer says.

By informing a patient’s doctor about vaccinations that have been given, the pharmacy also markets the service. “The faxed form lists all the vaccines we offer and checks off the one we’ve given. Doctors then know what we offer, creating the potential for future referrals.” 

Spreading the word required very little investment. “We put a sign on the door that says, ‘Leaving the country? Talk to us about vaccines.’ It costs nothing.”

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Hendricks Pharmacy 

Claremont, CA 

Get certified for yellow fever vaccination.

 

Karl Hess, PharmD, CTH, FCPhA, is an associate professor of clinical and administrative sciences at Keck Graduate Institute School of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. Since 2006 he’s also managed a successful travel health clinic at Hendricks Pharmacy.  He attributes much of the clinic’s success to promotional efforts in and out of the pharmacy. Inside, something as simple as hanging up maps and pictures of far-off destinations has prompted customer conversations about travel and helped introduce the travel clinic’s resources.

“Word of mouth has helped quite a bit,” Hess says. The pharmacy also had a booth at a village health fair. “We provided health information and gave away a lot of goodies to promote the clinic.”

Depending on where a traveler is headed, a consultation at the clinic might offer tips on how to minimize altitude sickness when climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro or whether malaria protection is needed when traveling to Uganda. 

Being certified to dispense yellow fever vaccine gives the pharmacy an advantage. “The CDC lists yellow fever vaccination sites on its website, which helps people find us. These are not vaccines any pharmacist can offer. You have to be trained.” 

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A first step in launching the clinic was setting up a protocol for how vaccinations would be handled, including how shots are administered, how information is then registered, and how it is sent to a collaborating physician. 

“We worked with the California Department of Public Health,” says Hess. “There was a lot of protocol and paperwork initially, then paperwork to get the word out to Hendricks customers. There were a lot of letters and faxes to physician’s offices.”

Each state varies in terms of laws and regulations on what a pharmacist can do at a travel health clinic, so it’s important to learn the parameters, Hess says. “Check with your state board of pharmacy. Figure out what’s going on in your state and try to fill that service in creative ways.”

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Sharp Coronado 

Community Pharmacy

Coronado, CA

Realistically assess how long consultations take.

 

According to Marwah Desoky, PharmD, the Sharp Coronado Community Pharmacy gained a definite edge by offering a travel clinic. “By providing an extra service that most pharmacies do not offer, it gives us the opportunity to bring in more patients who otherwise aren’t aware of all the pharmacy services we provide,” says Desoky. 

As part of the Sharp HealthCare not-for-profit healthcare system, the clinic started out with some marketing resources. Desoky uses the system’s website to promote the clinic, but also uses promotional materials to attract a wider audience. In the pharmacy, customers may encounter an “Are You Traveling?” brochure with a checklist of travel health considerations. 

“We are also in the process of creating a flyer to distribute to travel agencies, doctor’s offices, senior centers, churches, universities, and medical missions.”

Desoky completed a 10-hour travel medicine training program and a CDC yellow fever vaccine course, as well as immunization training, before setting up the clinic. She cautions pharmacists not to underestimate the time required for a comprehensive consultation, to fill in health history and itinerary specifics, then analyze a patient’s need. Will the patient need motion sickness medication? Should they worry about their destination’s food, water, or insects? Devoting sufficient time to adequately cover the essentials can pay off. Doing a thorough job naturally leads to referrals.

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 “Patients have been incredibly pleased with their travel consults and tell friends and family, which helps spread the word about the travel health clinic,” says Desoky.

Offering travel services adds value to the pharmacy. “It gives us an edge over other pharmacies and makes us unique in that pharmacists can prescribe medication, give immunizations, and provide self-care advice unique to each patient prior to travelling,” she says.

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Valu-Med Pharmacy 

Midwest City, OK

Market to special interest groups.

After hearing a presentation on how to set up a travel health clinic, Justin Wilson, PharmD, wanted to try it out. So he set up a clinic at one of his three pharmacies. “It kind of exploded from there,” Wilson says. That was 12 years ago. Business has expanded every year since the service opened. 

On a standard appointment, we do more than grab an arm and give them a shot,” says Wilson. “Patients will call us and tell us they are going to Angola, and we use our system to figure out what the current recommendations are in that part of the world, compare shot recommendations with their medical history and make recommendations. We set an appointment, they come in and we do a full consult, giving them shots and a traveler’s health report.”
Not only does the clinic do individual consultations, Wilson often consults with groups.

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“We market to several groups, churches going on mission trips, or businesses planning work-related travel,” says Wilson. “If it’s a large group, we go there and do some education, immunize them, and give them all the documents they need.”

Documentation is important if yellow fever vaccination is required. “One of the first things that contributed to our success was that we were certified to be a yellow fever clinic - the first pharmacy in Oklahoma, I believe. That differentiated us as a travel health center. Since yellow fever is the only shot that requires documentation, patients seek us out.” 

The pharmacy offers multiple clinical services, such as diabetes management. “Travel vaccination is probably the most successful clinical service we’ve added,” Wilson says.

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