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Ravi Deshpande, SVP at McKesson Canada, has plans for pharmacy

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Pharmacists are embarking on a new era that has them using the full extent of their professional knowledge, according to Ravi Deshpande (PharmD), McKesson Canada’s Senior Vice President, Strategy and Business Development.

By Julie Gedeon

Photography by Phil Bernard

He obtained his BScPhm at the University of Toronto, completed a hospital pharmacy residency with the University of Ottawa, earned his Doctor of Pharmacy in New York State, taught at the Grey School of Medicine in North Carolina, co-founded a pharmaceutical services firm, and then joined McKesson in 2005, where he is overseeing McKesson’s strategic planning, as well as mergers and acquisitions, in Canada.

How does your varied background influence your perspective on the pharmacy business?

Making any decision, I always consider the impact on patients because I remember as a hospital pharmacist sitting at a person’s bedside. It makes you realize that patient care is not an individual thing, but a true team effort. It requires looking at different perspectives, including those of the professionals behind the counter. I went into the pharmaceutical service business primarily because I thought drug companies could do a better job of giving pharmacists a wider range of relevant support and services – to help care providers do what they do best.

How did working as a hospital pharmacist specifically affect your outlook?

I actually spent very little time dispensing medications. There was a good system in place to distribute them. Instead, I focused on interacting with patients and their doctors to help determine the best treatment plan. I’m pleased that with access to better information and a shift in government thinking we’re seeing retail pharmacists assume more of this role in healthcare.

So you’re in favour of pharmacists providing more healthcare services?

One hundred per cent! I used to wonder why we trained for so long. I studied anatomy, physiology, pathology and even primary care. I’m glad to see our knowledge being put to greater use. Most provincial governments are putting their money where their mouth is by compensating pharmacists for additional services. Canada’s 9,000 pharmacies can now play a much more significant role in primary care, supplementing the work of physicians and relieving pressure in the healthcare system.

McKesson Canada announced in March that it had acquired the Remedy’sRx Group’s banner business and the Remedy’sRx name. Your company stated that, “This acquisition demonstrates McKesson Canada’s long-standing commitment to the health of the independent pharmacy segment in the Canadian market.” How so?

The niche for independent pharmacists has always been providing services and community integration that large-format stores can’t duplicate. The 288 owner-operated Remedy’sRx locations are primarily dispensary-oriented but have a good selection of frontshop health items in well laid-out stores close to the neighbourhoods they serve. The owners are motivated and fit in well with McKesson’s network. We’ve combined head offices and are focused on integrating the Remedy’sRx pharmacists into our system, offering the services and support that we already provide to approximately 2,000 banner pharmacies.

At a time of brand consolidation, what role do you see for the independent pharmacy?

Independent pharmacists become immersed in the fabric of their community. They get to know customers and their health issues, especially in smaller communities where a pharmacist is often the only immediate access to healthcare. When I went to several Northern Ontario mining towns to replace pharmacists on vacation, I had people bringing me all kinds of concerns, including dogs with paw infections, because there’s no one else around. Every neighbourhood wants a reliable pharmacist, as evidenced by the new stores opening up all the time. It’s a thriving sector.

Do you regard McKesson as a booster of independent pharmacies now that the company owns Remedy’sRx, the IDA, Guardian and PROXIM banners, and the Medicine Shoppe franchise network?

Independent pharmacists look to McKesson for services, technology and support they can’t develop on their own. We make advertising, data management and other aspects of their business easier so they can focus on customers.

What services do you offer independents to help them succeed?

Our base strength has always been distribution. We’re the biggest and most efficient distributor in the country so pharmacists have what they want when they want it. Our ability to deliver daily to most areas enables pharmacists to have what they need to dispense medications. We keep abreast of developments with manufacturers and Canadian regulators so that we can ensure uninterrupted supply.

Just as importantly, our expertise helps independent pharmacists further expand their scope of practice through professional services like medication counselling, adherence and flu vaccinations. Our PharmaClikRx dispensary management system, technology solutions and pharmacy automation solutions make running the dispensary easier so pharmacists have time to do what they’ve been trained to do, which is advise people about their health.

What do you think it takes to succeed in Canada as an independent?

The whole pharmacy world is changing. The public regards pharmacists very positively, but there’s work to be done to get pharmacists known for the additional healthcare services they can provide and we can help them to do that.