As businesspeople, pharmacists recognize that it is important to ensure products and services generate revenue and turn a profit. As healthcare professionals, however, they often find it difficult to discuss price with a patient.
By donalee Moulton
It is an essential conversation, says Susan Beresford, a pharmacist with Kinburn Pharmasave in Mahone Bay, NS. “The services we offer must be sustainable. As pharmacists, we need to understand that being a healthcare professional and a businessperson are not at odds. We want to do the most we can to support our patients, but we need to be able to sustain that. We need a building. We need lights.”
Two factors are driving the need to charge for services previously offered at no cost, and to introduce new services that come with a price tag. It’s a competitive market and patients are looking for pharmacies that can meet a wide variety of needs. “Things are getting very tough out there, and while pharmacists must support one another, it is equally important to protect your market by excelling at providing up-to-date, patient-centred services and developing collaborative partnerships within your community,” says Beresford.
Charging for services often makes pharmacists more ill at ease than patients. Comfort levels are built on recognizing that for patients to accept the cost of a service as reasonable, they must value that service – and they must see that their pharmacist does the same. “Ironically, ‘free’ can be an unappreciated word,” notes Beresford.
Whenever the community pharmacist waives a fee, for example, she lets her patient know the fee has been waived and what it would normally have cost. The information is appreciated, and so is the consideration.
The charge for services is often met with nonchalance. Patients expect fees especially as pharmacists’ scope of practice expands and evolves. “People are seeing us as healthcare professionals and not as dispensers of a pill bottle,” says Beresford. “They understand the knowledge and experience we bring, and recognize that has value.”
The value varies depending on the circumstances. When Beresford is standing in the aisle helping answer a patient’s questions about a minor ailment, there is obviously no charge for the service. It is informal counselling. But for many pharmacists in Canada, formal counselling for minor ailments is around the corner, and it will come with a cost.
Patients are already familiar with, and often very accepting of, charges for a range of health-related services outside of the pharmacy. They are also aware that pharmacists are now being paid to provide important services such as giving flu shots and writing prescriptions. The demand for those services is high. In Mahone Bay, a town of about 900 people, roughly 450 alone got the flu shot from Beresford and her team. Such services help sustain the pharmacy business.
No apology is, therefore, necessary when services come with a price tag. “There is no need to say, ‘I have to charge you,’” notes Beresford. “Simply look your patient in the eye, smile and provide them with the information regarding cost. The key is to understand the value proposition for this person. Why does this matter to them?”
Looking at the ground with an “aw shucks” attitude sends the message that you are uncomfortable with the cost of the service. This, in turn, raises questions and concerns in the patient’s mind. “Be matter of fact,” advises Beresford.
For pharmacists who find discussing price uncomfortable, take time to look within to understand where this discomfort is coming from. “People need to find their comfort zone,” says Beresford. “Once you find it, the process becomes much easier.”
4 top tips to charge for your services
- Be confident. Charging starts with your belief in the value of the services you’re providing.
- Post a sign with charges for services. That way there are no surprises.
- Change your mindset. You’re not just a pharmacist, but also a businessperson.
- Don’t be afraid to charge. Often, freebies are regarded as lacking in value.