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Joan Vos MacDonald is a freelance writer living in upstate New York.
Consultations can extend sales, services beyond immunizations.
When preparing for a trip, travelers may want to check out advice on how to make that trip a healthier one. One way to do so is to visit a travel health clinic at a pharmacy.
Research suggests that more than half of all travelers experience health problems while on a trip, many of which could be prevented by vaccinations or bringing along appropriate medications. Getting sound medical advice before departure can minimize the chance of any health complications while traveling, whether that advice includes a tetanus booster, a yellow fever vaccination, or stocking up on mosquito repellent.
At a travel health clinic, visitors can meet with a pharmacist to compose a customized travel plan that factors in their personal health history. Travel clinics not only offer vaccinations for diseases that are more prevalent at some destinations, but can also suggest medications to bring to combat common travel-related problems such as altitude sickness or digestive upsets. Using dedicated pharmacy software and online resources, pharmacists can offer destination-specific suggestions. Yet, many travelers may not know that travel health clinics exist or that there is one in a nearby pharmacy.
“It is something often overlooked by travelers; travel agencies rarely mention it, and few medical practices provide it,” says Jeffrey Goad, PharmD, a professor in the department of pharmacy practice, School of Pharmacy at Chapman University in California. “So, the pharmacy is an excellent place to get your medications, vaccinations, OTCs, and supplies for travel all in one place.”
Pharmacy travel health clinics are very convenient and can be a source of revenue for pharmacies, but only if travelers know they exist. That’s why marketing is important.
Marketing Your Service
Publicizing travel health clinic services need not be complicated or expensive. Marketing efforts can be as simple as posting a notice or a travel readiness checklist in the pharmacy or including clinic information on a phone message or on the pharmacy website.
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“In store advertising has been reported by pharmacies to be the most successful,” says Goad.
At Sand Run Pharmacy in Akron, OH, Tom Lamb, RPh, uses a large television billboard to inform his customers of the pharmacy’s services, including what’s available at its new travel clinic.
“It’s easy to assume everyone knows what we offer, but they may not know,” Lamb says.
After years of giving flu and pneumonia vaccinations, Sand Run began offering travel vaccinations in 2018. Based on the community’s enthusiastic response, Lamb decided to open a travel health clinic this month. To attract customers, who might not necessarily visit the pharmacy for a flu shot, they actively sought referrals, contacting the local health department, physicians, and travel agents.
Local health departments that used to handle travel vaccinations are not doing as much as they once did, says Lamb. “They are not keeping vaccines available, so they look to refer to other sources in town,”
Successfully marketing a travel health clinic involves identifying target audiences, whether that’s a nearby college with students who might travel for an exchange program, a church that is planning a group mission trip, or businesses that regularly send employees abroad. Contacting these sources and letting them know what the clinic offers can lead to referrals.
Travel agents have been a very good source of referrals for the pharmacy, especially when it comes to group trips. A travel agency might be working with 20 or more people who are going on the same safari, and each traveler might need vaccinations and recommendations.
“In a group of 20 or more people going on one safari, one prescription can lead to 20 prescriptions for the other people who also need it,” Lamb says. “One planning-ahead type person doing the research on needed vaccines leads to 20 more getting vaccinations. Word of mouth is great. I recently also had another group, a church group going on a mission trip. If you get one person in the group, you get a lot more.”
According to Lamb, these marketing efforts have contributed to the clinic’s early success.
“People are looking for a source that is easy to work with, that is responsive to their needs, that has a quick turnaround time, basically, that makes it easy for them. That’s what our goal is.”
Contacting physicians about their travel health clinic services has also been a very successful marketing tool for Bremo Pharmacy in Richmond, VA, perhaps their most successful.
The pharmacy set up its travel clinic more than six years ago and one of their first outreach efforts was to send a mass fax to all the pediatricians and primary care doctors in the area, explaining that the clinic gave vaccinations and consultations.
“We told them this is what we offer and that we’re a good resource” said Jennifer Helmke, PharmD. “As a result we developed a good relationship with a lot of physicians. Many don’t necessarily want to do vaccinations and they need someone to refer patients to.”
The department of health was also a good source of referrals for Bremo. “Patients can go to the department of health for vaccinations, but a lot of times people go there and they are booked six months out, so people who go there for a consult may get referred to us.”
Helmke speaks about travel health outside the clinic at least once a year. “I’m often asked to provide a travel topic to discuss at a nursing home, in an assisted living facility or to the elderly at a community center,” she says. “That brings in a lot of people at once.”
Besides online marketing, listing services on Facebook and its website, the pharmacy also obtains referrals from travel agents. “Travel agents are limited in that they know customers are going somewhere they should get a vaccination, and that they should probably speak to someone. They are aware of what their customers need, but not always of where to send them,” she says.
Helmke decided to set up the travel clinic because she was passionate about travel, so when patients do come in for a consultation she wants it to be comprehensive. “We ask patients where they’re going, what type of activity they plan on doing that might put them at an increased health risk, so we can evaluate,” said Helmke. “There’s a difference between a 25-year-old going hiking versus a 40-year-old going on a cruise. There are different risks with each activity, age, and environment.”
She likes to share tips that may come in handy, some of which she used in her own travels. For example, preemptively spraying your clothes with some brands of inexpensive bug spray can provide an extra layer of protection when traveling somewhere known for disease-carrying insects. It’s simple, but a tip like that can make all the difference. “I want to be sure they go home with the full package,” she says.
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There are many ways for travel health clinics to get the word out to those who might need their services. A good first step is always to assess the particular needs of your community and make contact with those who can help spread the message. For example, if there’s a school nearby, a student health services might be interested in promoting the service on campus.
Corporate human resource departments may also appreciate a resource for any travelers they sends overseas. Contacting the outreach coordinator at local health departments can help travel health clinics promote the services they provide.
Clinics can also join or subscribe to organizations or services that maintains listings of travel clinics on a high-volume website; such as Shoreland’s Travel Health Online, the International Society of Travel Medicine, the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, and other travel medicine resources. Travel health clinics offer valuable services and an important part of any travel health clinic plan should be letting the community know what they offer.