Treating Patients Like Family: The Power of Community Pharmacy

When Toledo Family Pharmacy won the Operational Innovation Award at the recent McKesson IdeaShare conference, owner Hussein El-Khatib, PharmD, RPh, knew the honor was justified. Since opening in 2012, the northwest Ohio-based pharmacy’s dedication to superior service has spurred its growth from just a few customers to now more than 5,000 patients, with 15,000 prescriptions filled across three locations. When asked how the pharmacy was able to achieve this level of growth and efficiency in such a short timeframe, El-Khatib said it all centers around the customer.

“[It’s] all the different things that we are involved in, or either purchased or acquired to help our patients,” El-Khatib said. “Whether it’s a Parata machine or packaging system, prescribing bonus to help with clinical, delivery service, fellowship, [direct and indirect remunueration] fees and how to minimize them — [operational innovation] is [about] the excellent service, the community involvement, and the technology.”

El-Khatib, who is also the president of a pharmacy-consultant firm called PharmSolve, believes that the growth of his businesses is driven by the connection between pharmacy and patient. Many of the services offered by Toledo Family Pharmacy center around preventative health, such as diabetes management, smoking cessation, corporate wellness, and medication therapy management (MTM). The pharmacy building also reflects the focus on improving the lives of patients. The pharmacy’s original location has expanded over the years to include more room for patient services, as well as a delivery option, a full staff of pharmacists and technicians, and marketing services and materials.

“The family name is truly in the name of the pharmacy, whether with the employees that we work with or the patients we serve,” El-Khatib said. “Our patients are very loyal to us, they love us. We treat the patients and employees like family.”

The pharmacy offers a wide variety of services to fit the needs of their patients, such as innovative packaging solutions, as well as booster and punch cards for assisted living facilities and assistance for this population.

As the only independently-owned pharmacy in northwest Ohio with a diabetes program accredited by the American Association of Diabetes Educators, Toledo Family Pharmacy works with patients who may have had complications or unexplained changes in blood sugar levels. They also teach alternative methods of managing the disease.

Additionally, the pharmacy offers a program that packages and delivers medications to patients in rehabilitation facilities before they are discharged and then retains them as patients to monitor their progress. Currently, the pharmacy has a 90% retention rate in this program, according to El-Khatib. 

The pharmacy also contracts with the Lucas County Health Department for a program in which high-risk patients in Toledo who attend an MTM session receive a medication coupon or a 90-day fill for the price of one month.

“The level of the service is really high, so our patients are getting the very best service from us by all of these free things that are happening, that are for their benefit,” El-Khatib said.

Community engagement is a major focus area for the pharmacy as a means to reach underserved populations within the Toledo area. Along with offering free packaging and delivery, the staff often go out into the community to give presentations on topics such as diabetes, hyperlipidemia, immunizations, smoking cessation, nutrition, and hoarding tendencies in subsidence housing, community centers, senior centers and rehabilitation centers. They then follow up a week later to give immunizations, smoking cessation courses, and assistance with areas such as proper nutrition and diabetes management.

 “The lifestyle change [is something] that you can do for yourself,” El-Khatib said. “If you have a lot of hoarding, you might lose your medicine, whether it falls behind a desk or something like that. So, we talk about a lot of lifestyle changes and how that might affect their health.”

Along with those outreach efforts, Toledo Family Pharmacy also joins more than 40-50 vendors and services in the area for a health fair, which they began hosting annually in 2015. Furthermore, the pharmacy started a Community Health Outcomes Fellowship with the University of Toledo in 2016. El-Khatib said it is the first fellowship funded by an independent community pharmacy in the United States, with a pledge of $1 million for the fellowship over the next 12 years for 2 fellows.

El-Khatib noted that he did not create these programs entirely on his own and admitted that the process of launching these services was initially overwhelming.

“When I wanted to start my diabetes program, I had never done it before,” he said. “I had two options: I could contact someone to ask them for help to create it with me — companies that have done this — or I could try it on my own, and research and make mistakes on my own.”

Using his own experiences as an example, El-Khatib often advocates for retail pharmacy owners to reach out to pharmacy consulting services.

“You have to determine what’s best for you. For myself, it’s not even worth it to do it on my own,” he said.  

El-Khatib added that some of the biggest challenges faced by Toledo Family Pharmacy stem from its commitment to the community: navigating barriers with insurance companies and low reimbursement levels, having a higher cost of goods on a consistent basis, and maintaining a staff of hardworking, passionate individuals.

However, as the health care system evolves to a value-based model, community pharmacies, such as Toledo Family Pharmacy, are uniquely situated to thrive as a result of their extensive history of putting patient care first.

“I think the value is extremely high right now, and moving forward, it’s only going to be higher — especially with the model of pharmacy that the [insurance companies] are trying to get to where they are paying less for dispensing the medications and more for educating and helping the patient,” El-Khatib explained. “You’re never going to get the level of experience and level of education from a chain pharmacy like in independent pharmacy, that attention, the getting to know you, being in touch with you. We’re not going to let a patient go without their medication because they don’t have $2 for a co-pay.”