by Jane Xia BSc.Pharm, PharmD, MBA
As pharmacists, we have a hard time asking patients to pay for our services. We always try to have patients’ medications covered by insurance or the government. We tell patients that the clinical services are “free” when in actuality they are reimbursed by the government. We have not been taught how to communicate our value to our patients. In addition, a lot of our consultations are free of charge and have now become the norm based on the way we have portrayed ourselves. The counter argument, of course, is we make profit from over-the-counter medications so the service should be “free of charge.”
But should it? Especially if we are going to incorporate it along with other clinical services?
To reinvent our image or shed the “free of charge” coat, we need to translate our clinical knowledge into valuable, marketable and chargeable services. Instead of telling patient that it is “free of charge,” it is time for us to talk to them about how we can better manage their disease states and charge a well-deserved and worthwhile fee.
Design the clinical program
Currently, most of the clinical services offered by pharmacies consist of one-time interaction with the patients. For instance, osteoporosis clinic using the BMD machine, heart health clinic evaluating cholesterol using point of care tool, or flu clinic addressing only flu vaccines in a once-a-year type of visit. It is time for us to think bigger and be more involved with each patient when it comes to demonstrating our value and showcasing our clinical knowledge.
In order to charge a fee that is beneficial for the patients and worth our while, envision multiple sessions. It should have both service and tangible products with clear deliverables. Consider the following ideas/proposals:
- Medication reviews:
- Ask more comprehensive questions to be more curious and explore the patient’s experience such as: how are you finding managing your medications? What are some challenges you are facing managing your disease? These would be in addition to asking: what are you taking these medications for and how are you taking them?
- Often, health literacy is a big problem. To improve the interaction between you and the patient, it is important to communicate using analogies or through stories rather than using health jargon we feel so comfortable with. The lack of comprehension from patients can also be a disengaging process for them to reject these interactions.
- For instance, when discussing one of the long-term complications of diabetes, a good analogy for describing the function of the kidneys is to compare them to a colander that keeps the good stuff inside while filtering the waste out (1).
- Other than generic counselling and education that patients can easily search online, discuss key information such as health navigation, patient journey, or medication specific related information that is specific to this patient.
- Find key information that the patients cannot find online such as evidence based and up-to-date medical information via pubmed or dynamed regarding their medications or medical conditions.
- Provide physical assessment (Vitals such as Blood Pressure and Heart Rate measurement) for each session to illustrate your clinical knowledge and also screen for potential issues that the patient may have.
- Prepare a physical book/booklet for your clinical service/program for continuity of discussion and learning with your patients.
- In addition to medication reviews, you always want to provide a tangible/physical copy of the action plan in documentation format for your patient (printed or emailed).
- Have key disease specific resources compiled or have app/web access for your patients.
- You may also include relevant books as part of the package.
- Well-designed Q cards with a network of physicians and other healthcare providers that the patient can keep track of.
Marketing the clinical program:
- Prior to marketing, always do a survey with your patients regarding their level of interest and their willingness to pay so you know how much to charge for each session or a potential yearly subscription service and see if the clinical service is worth your while.
- Your survey may discuss that these services and products will help them improve their self-management and potentially reduce the risk and prevent future health consequences.
- Know who your target audience is. Is your program specific to baby boomers, for instance? If so, have a patient screening set up at the pharmacy at dropoff or pickup.
- In my previous blog, I discussed the importance of interprofessional collaboration. I highly recommend discussing these ideas with physicians in the area and have their buy-in on the program. Word of mouth is your best bet when you start off with these clinics, especially if it comes from a doctor or nurse.
- Make a pamphlet with simple, clear and concise language so patients understand what they are getting in terms the benefits for their health and of the various services and products.
- Too often I see pamphlets filled with texts that can easily be googled. Instead, consider translating that information to an infograph or easily digestible information for those with low health literacy.
Consistent selling of value:
Final step is to really have all your staff on board with the wording of the program. Make sure everyone is consistent in the messaging. Focus on the benefits for the patients rather than what the service and products are as a starting topic for discussion. For example, your selling message may be: “Many patients struggle with managing diabetes. We have a program that will help patients to improve self-management and minimize risk and hopefully prevent future complications such as heart attack or kidney failure. If you want more information, here is a pamphlet.”
Revise and adapt:
You will need to keep track of the progress you are making throughout and make adjustments as needed to ensure that your clinical program is improving over time and adapting to the needs of your patients.
This will not be a small project. If you launch a program without the proper preparation and thought, it will result in waste of time and resources. It will require creative thinking along with thorough research prior to launch. I firmly believe that valuable clinical service offerings must be paired with proper payment from patients. This will propel the pharmacy profession forward to show patients our true value, which is both marketable and profitable.
- United Health Care. Kidney Disease. 2019. Accessed [Nov 18, 2020] https://healthlibrary.uhc.com/content/healthlibrary/uhc/hl/health-topics/kidney-disease/chronic-kidney-disease-pre-dialysis/0140-3C-diabetes-affects-kidneys.html
Jane Xia BSc.Pharm, PharmD, MBA a lecturer at the UBC Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences. After working in various roles in the healthcare industry, Jane Xia knows how to build clinical programs, empower others, and drive business growth.