by Jane Xia BSc.Pharm, PharmD, MBA, RPh
- Pharmacists are not trained to get to know the patient’s journey.
- Patient journey provides perspective and insights into patients’ beliefs and behaviour.
- Conveying our worth is essential and we must be compensated.
- The first step to building anything innovative is to do market research and gather information.
- The best information comes from your patients.
As pharmacists, we are indoctrinated to gather patient medical information such as allergies, medical conditions, lifestyle, over-the-counter medications, and other health status-related details. Utilizing this information, we can figure out drug-related problems and resolve any issues to optimize patients’ health. As pharmacists, we do not like to talk about revenue or profit. We are trained to take care of our patients clinically. However, if we are not able to link our value and profit together, we will not have a sustainable business.
With the impending pressure of Amazon Pharmacy as a potential large conglomerate entrant to Canada, likely to launch soon, pharmacy owners and directors must innovate and think ahead. We need to demonstrate to patients why pharmacy services from the traditional bricks and mortar locations are extremely valuable. After all, we talk about pharmacies being the most trusted and accessible healthcare professionals. If we lose our clinical charm and locations because mail order prescriptions are here to replace a lot of our current core dispensing and distribution model, then we will not be able to sustain this accessibility. Without accessibility, it will be very difficult to build trust.
Find your niche
Currently, the pharmacy market trend is steering towards more clinical services. To differentiate from one another, pharmacists must innovate and provide services that have value and are unique. For pharmacies with a steady client base and desire to expand services, the first step is to do market research on a disease state of interest. You may ask, why just one disease state? It is better to be known as the best at one thing rather than being mediocre at many things, especially, if you charge premium pricing.
Once you know which disease state you are interested in providing services for, do not just create a generic educational brochure and hope that your therapeutic drug knowledge will be sufficient in helping all your existing patients with a medication review. Everyone is doing that. Education must be tailored to your customer base and your valued service must address gaps the patient is experiencing. Market research is essential. It will help you identify the gaps in the current system and issues your patients are experiencing. If you can resolve those issues with your service offering, then success, you have a valuable offering. To take this step further, you also need to link it to payment. Perhaps bundling services with products will provide more customer appeal and higher willingness to pay than just purely service itself.
Find gaps in patient care
Let me ask, when was the last time you talked to a patient about how long they had symptoms of ulcerative colitis before they officially got diagnosed with the disease? Perhaps how many ineffective therapies Mr. Jones tried before she decided to come ask you for advice on cough. The struggles that Sam has been going through with managing her diabetes medication because she did not attend any of her diabetes education courses because the parking was too expensive and her schedule is too hectic but too embarrassed to admit that she needed help. For patients who are non-adherent to their antidepressants, they are not doing so because no one has told them explicitly to prepare for a journey of trial and error. Instead of practising patience with their medication, the patients are frustrated as the expectation is to reach therapeutic effect with just one drug. Out of all these scenarios, pharmacists can intervene early and provide useful advice for patients to seek help earlier, offer clinical services packaged with billable services, and perhaps out-of-pocket subscription service to a regular assessment for holistic health review where specialized education resources, vaccinations, preventive advice can be provided on a regular basis.
Understand your value proposition
To truly understand the gaps in patients’ care, we need to listen to our patients and investigate what the patient’s journey is like. In the research phase, invest some time in creating insightful questions (no more than 3 to 4) and ensure that you ask at least 20 or more patients before formulating your solution – consider variability of different beliefs and experiences. Always ask if the patient is willing to pay out of pocket for this type of service, if so, how much, if not, why not? Do not underestimate the power of value proposition. For instance, if you can save the patient 1-2 hours at the doctor’s office or help a patient with important disease management information that will likely change their lives, you have a great service/product offering. Finally, once you have gathered enough information to figure out what the common problems are, discover how you can become the solution provider. Make sure you run the numbers on the cost and profit for offering this service/product in your pharmacy.
We need be curious about our patients’ lives. They have valuable information that will help pharmacy shape its innovative future. All we have to do is ask. I hope your next venture will start off with some good insights gained from in-depth conversations you will have with your patients!
Jane Xia BSc.Pharm, PharmD, MBA, RPh is Principal Consultant with Cedar Health Consulting Inc.