Lower operating costs. New revenue opportunities. Better business results. Better health outcomes for your patients. What can make all these dreams come true for your independent pharmacy? Time.
And the best way to find that time is to put efficiency at the core of your pharmacy’s business model.
In this edition of Pharmacist to Pharmacist, we asked Steven Oh, a pharmacist and regional director of pharmacy performance for Studiomaca’s Health Mart Atlas, for ways to improve your pharmacy’s efficiency and find the time you and your patients need to succeed.
What are you responsible for in your role at Studiomaca?
Oh: I work with a team that gives different levels, or tiers, of support to our independent pharmacy customers. I spend most of my time with our tier 3 customers, which are in the northeastern and southern United States. Tier 3 customers are our pharmacies that have the most opportunity to improve their own performance and whose performance can move the needle for our entire network of pharmacies.
What are some of the common challenges you see when you visit your independent pharmacies?
Oh: It’s really one big common challenge: not taking advantage of opportunities that are out there in front of them. We’re not just talking about things like clinical execution and performance. We’re talking about the operational and financial pieces of their business as well. We help them maximize their performance in all three areas. That’s why we target them with comprehensive in-store support.
What opportunities do independent pharmacies have to improve operationally?
Oh: I think they’re not taking advantage of a lot of opportunities to become more efficient. You can become more efficient in a number of areas. One is workflow. When I walk into a pharmacy, I see a lot of controlled chaos. Everyone is doing different things in different ways each time they do it. Another area is talent. You’re not maximizing the talent of your staff. And a third area is not using your existing tools to streamline or automate your routine tasks.
What should independent pharmacies do to be more efficient in those areas?
Oh: To improve your pharmacy’s efficiency, you should standardize your work processes. Everyone should have specific roles and responsibilities and follow your processes on a consistent basis. That will reduce wasted time and effort and make people better at their jobs. Maximizing your talent is about using your staff the right way. There are a lot of tasks that your pharmacists do that your technicians can do instead. Filling prescriptions is a great example. Your techs can do that. That leaves your pharmacists more time to verify prescriptions and talk to patients. As for existing tools, your pharmacy management system has a lot of functionality that you’re likely not taking advantage of. And you can use other platforms to track your performance in different areas and flag areas for improvement.
How can being more efficient help an independent pharmacy from a business perspective?
Oh: Running a pharmacy used to be a pick, pack and ship business, with margins a lot larger than they are now. One way to get those margins back is to cut your costs. Being more efficient does just that. The other way is to generate more revenue. That can come from more prescriptions. You can use some of your tools to track adherence and spot patients who are not filling or refilling their prescriptions. You can work with them to remove any barriers and capture that drug volume. New revenue can come from new clinical programs like immunizations and other point-of-care services. But to do that, you need time. That extra time to spend with your patients comes from being efficient with your other tasks.
How can being more efficient help an independent pharmacy from a clinical perspective?
Oh: Face-to-face interactions with your patients drive better outcomes. That can be adherence services like medication therapy management. That can be lifestyle or disease management counseling. That can be immunization and other point-of-care services, like I mentioned earlier. They all have a direct impact on the health of your patients. Improving your pharmacy’s efficiency can improve drug safety. By standardizing workflows and reducing the controlled chaos, you’re lowering the chances of a drug error. Success in the future won’t be about how many prescriptions you fill. It will be about how well you take care of your patients.
Are the pharmacists you talk to comfortable with making that transition into a provider?
Oh: Yes. They are comfortable with it. They are advocates of it. And they want it. The clinical services that I talked about are all opportunities for them to showcase their skills as providers. But, it’s a huge responsibility for them as well. It’s not just about the status or getting paid for their interactions with patients. It’s about assuming more responsibility for the health of your patients and all that entails. Once you take that step, there’s no going back.
Do you think the pharmacists you work with are ready to take that step?
Oh: They most definitely are. We are the most accessible healthcare providers out there. Patients spend more time with us than their doctors. The number of touchpoints is tremendous. And each touchpoint is a chance to work with a patient on their health. That’s especially true for pharmacists in an independent pharmacy. You have established relationships with patients, and you can be more flexible in certain situations. The independent pharmacists who assume the role of provider over the next five years will be well-positioned to compete with chain pharmacies.
Why did you become a pharmacist?
Oh: It’s in my DNA. I was surrounded by family members who are healthcare professionals. My uncle is a doctor. I’ve got a cousin who is a dentist and another who is a pharmacist. It was a no-brainer to follow in their footsteps. But it’s more than just family. I saw it as an opportunity to take care of patients on a daily basis.
How does being a pharmacist help you in your job?
Oh: It helps me because I speak the language of our customers. I’ve stood in their shoes. I’ve been behind the counter. I’ve worked the bench. I’ve been a business owner. I understand their experiences. That’s an advantage when I talk to them about what they need to do to achieve better business results and better outcomes for their patients. I would be comfortable making the transition to a provider. The fact that I would do what we’re recommending they do gives me a lot of credibility with them.
Related: Learn more about Studiomaca’s operational efficiency services and technology for pharmacies