Through its powerful mix of CE-accredited sessions, the annual Pharmacy U conference is creating a community of engaged pharmacists equipped to make positive changes to the industry and successfully adapt to its new realities.
By Talbot Boggs
“The key to the success of this conference is about the sharing of ideas, being inspired to take our profession to a higher level and gaining a perspective of what we can do as professionals,” said Kelly Haggarty, owner of Bright’s Grove Pharmacy. “Education is a key to the advancement of our professional clinical skills, but we also have to improve our skills as business owners and operators because it’s harder these days to be profitable. There’s also a lot you can learn from the experience of others. This conference brings all these things together in one place.”
This year’s conference was entirely accredited, offering a total of 17.50 CEU credits for attending presentations on clinical and business-related subjects ranging from the implementation and optimization of smoking cessation, COPD, minor ailments, flu vaccinations and other services, to current trends in pharmacy valuations, managing staff, assessing technology needs, coping with change, improving productivity and drug adherence, and building a business plan for your pharmacy.
“With sold-out sessions, full accreditation, great networking opportunities and online access to the conference and other information through PharmacyU.ca, we are truly creating a community of engaged pharmacists who are being equipped to make positive changes to the profession and business of pharmacy,” said Russell Hoffman, general manager of event organizer Fulcrum Media. “We were really encouraged to see that community come out in such strength in spite of some difficult weather. The feedback we’ve gotten this year was the best ever.”
“When we come together as a community of professionals at events like this to improve the level of care for our patients, they respond by giving us their loyalty,” said Lila Keller, president of Pear Healthcare. “Accreditation of the entire conference is very important because pharmacists’ time is stretched. In one day they can get CE credits, improve their business skills and meet their peers, all under one roof.”
“This was my third Pharmacy U,” said Sean Simpson, owner, Simpson’s Pharmasave in Niagara-on-the-Lake. “This year I brought five of my staff because there’s so much to take in. We’ll sit down, discuss what we learned and see what we can take and implement in the store.”
Changing pharma services
Despite the growth of e-commerce, bricks and mortar community pharmacies will not disappear, but they need to transform themselves into wellness destinations and distributors of experiences, not products. “You have to start reimagining what you do because the last thing customers need is another place to buy your products,” Doug Stephens, founder of the Retail Prophet, told the conference’s delegates in his dynamic kickoff address. “You have to create an experience and make your customers active participants in it. Become a destination to treat sickness, promote health and deliver wellness solutions that not only involve drugs but the food you eat, how you cook it, healthy vacations, how you look and how to keep your aging parents independent.”
New clinical services are one of the best ways community pharmacies can improve patient health and revenues at the same time. “There’s simply nothing better for business and bringing people into your store,” said Tracey Phillips, vice president of pharmacy at Katz Group Canada Ltd./Rexall Pharma Plus. “Seventy per cent of the people who came into Rexall last year for a medical injection had never been in our stores before. You couldn’t do better with all your marketing dollars if you tried, and the return you get from the customer loyalty you build is fantastic. It’s a no-brainer.”
“Both pharmacy owners and staff pharmacists are hungry for more practical CE content to help them align advancements in patient care with the rapidly changing business side of community pharmacy, said Jim Danahy, founder of CustomerLAB. “Linking the two not only delivers better care, it has become a matter of survival, especially for independents.”
Ontario pharmacists are gearing up to prescribe for minor ailments as soon as the provincial government passes the necessary regulations. “The session I attended really helped me understand what’s involved in setting up and implementing a minor ailments program and what the benefits are to the patient, pharmacist and physician and primary care practice,” said John Henderson, owner of Henderson Pharmacy in Thorold. “When it happens, we’ll be ready.”
Balancing your business
Pharmacists need to be careful to maintain a balance between the clinical and business sides of their operations. “We must never lose sight of our customers, but we also need to ensure that our businesses are profitable,” said Doug Sommerville, general manager of Teva Canada.
“Facing rapidly changing revenue models and dwindling dispensary margins, pharmacy owners and operators need to develop and improve their business acumen,” said Mike Jaczko, partner and portfolio manager with K.J Harrison & Partners. “Pharmacy U is an excellent forum in which to do so.”
“Pharmacists have to have the tools to handle both sides of the business,” noted Christina Early, director of pharmacy operations with Pharmasave Ontario. “Have a strategy and plan for your business, have frontshop categories that support your back shop, hire people who share your vision and implement your plan.”
One of the biggest challenges facing pharmacists today is having enough time to get the business and clinical education they need. “Education in this new business model of pharmacy is key,” said David Windross, vice president external affairs, with Teva. “Using registered technicians is crucial in freeing up pharmacists’ time to take care of the expanded scope of practice and services and their businesses.”
“Attending Pharmacy U in Toronto was a great way to start the New Year and become re-inspired and re-motivated,” said Iris Krawchenko, a pharmacist consultant and former owner of Dell Pharmacies. “The CE sessions were a great blend of pharmacy practice and pharmacy business topics, which offered forums to discuss, share ideas and address the challenges facing community pharmacy.”
Mustafa Kurdi, a final-year student at the University of Waterloo’s pharmacy school — one of 56 students to attend the conference — is excited about meeting the new challenges of the profession. “I think pharmacists have to look at the business first and then at the clinical side and the services,” he said. “The old pharmacy model is antiquated and needs to be changed. From what I saw, this conference is giving pharmacists the knowledge and tools to do just that.”
Networking is an extremely important component of any professional conference, and there many opportunities for the industry to come together at Pharmacy U. “The networking opportunities were tremendous, as pharmacists from many different backgrounds, including students, were present,” said Tom Smiley, director of education with Pear Healthcare Solutions. “There is great learning when pharmacists from different pharmacy cultures get together to share best practices.”