By Gerry Spitzner
In most areas of the economy, fundamental demand has shrunk. At the same time, some markets have actually grown (videoconferencing and eLearning, anyone?), and a few large ones have evaporated (retail, travel). Are you doomed to sink to the level of the average decline (or worse), or can you find or create new opportunities to help your patients, clients, and customers?
Not a light switch moment
At long last we’re beginning to hear from our provincial leaders and health officers across the country about easing restrictions on business openings and the movement of people. However, there will be a “new normal” environment for all of retail to operate in that won’t be a light switch moment but rather more of a dimmer switch to get the economy rolling again.
It’s become apparent that the “new reality” of the COVID-19 virus is going to be with us for some time, and since I’m a believer that opportunity comes out of chaos, I’ve been thinking about what I’d be doing operationally if I still owned my drugstores. How could I make the most of this situation in the next 18-24 months?
So, what can you as pharmacists do right now? Since there are fewer opportunities out there, you need to have more upfront conversations. And, you need to widen your lens on how you define an opportunity so that you see more of them. That is: think of yourself as being in the business of helping your clients/patients achieve their most important health goals, period – not just (repetitively) providing a specific solution for a specific problem.
Create more upfront conversations to uncover new opportunities
It’s refreshing after all these years to hear pharmacists and retail pharmacy staff mentioned by politicians, media and the public as essential frontline healthcare workers and pharmacy itself as an essential service. There is heightened awareness in the public of the great things pharmacists do. Therefore, there is no better time than the present to do things differently. Learn to think beyond the pill and turn every customer/patient contact into a health conversation. The public is ready to hear about your patient services (beyond dispensing) and now is the time to create that awareness.
Right now, your clients/patients may be firefighting and not willing or able to talk about their future priorities. That’s understandable — and, there may very well be short-term needs you can help them with. Yet, don’t forget that aside from the current environment, you need to regularly speak with your current customers/patients in order to step back from the day-to-day work and explore their health agenda of key priorities, needs, and goals. Think of it as getting off the dance floor and taking a “balcony view” of their health.
Everyone is going to become a “germaphobe”
The opportunity exists to grow your practice from being a medication expert to a health professional who helps patients practise disease prevention and manage a health condition. Find out how your patients are dealing with the reality of the virus being ever present in their day-to-day lives. Help them (immunocompromised or otherwise) figure out how to optimize their medication and live with the presence of the virus in our daily lives, at least for the foreseeable future.
To be clear, this opportunity goes far beyond social distancing, cleaning, and plexiglass. Those are a given in the new retail business reality. It means that it may be time to consider how you could develop your patient services with virtual counselling, online ordering of OTCs (and even HBA), contactless delivery, or anything else you could do to relieve the anxiety of standing in a social distance line to either get into your pharmacy or wait for the counter area to open to discuss a personal health matter with a pharmacist behind a plexiglass barrier. The pandemic could usher in an online era of patient care and it’s an opportunity not to be missed.
Without question the past few months have been business as unusual; prescription volume increased unexpectedly and exponentially overnight, even more medication shortages surfaced and then there are many staff challenges to overcome. Things are moving quickly; it’s been a crazy train and it would be quite normal to take some time off for much needed downtime. And you should do that.
Right now, because of the massive economic contraction, generally demand is reduced across all sectors. However, in the rebound — and there will be one — there will be plenty of opportunities to grow your patient relationships and revenue online. The challenge is to position yourself to thrive in that rebound.
As we come out of this situation, we have an opportunity to be better. To be different. Take advantage of the opportunity to move your practice to the next chapter. Your patients, prospective clients and the public are ready to listen.
Gerry Spitzner is a business analyst at his company pharmacySOS.ca, a consultancy focused on helping pharmacists with business development and management strategies for their practice to build clients for life.