Mark Longley, Chief Strategy and Business Development Officer at Parata
Mark Longley

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a whirlwind of activity for multistore pharmacies. With more than 90% of Americans living within two miles of a pharmacy, patients looked to pharmacies and pharmacists as an alternative to their primary care provider while the pandemic raged through doctor’s offices and hospitals. Throughout the last 15 months, pharmacies adapted to these needs, investing in medication delivery for those patients wary of in-person visits, and spearheading COVID-19 testing, education, and immunizations.

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As a result of the influx of patients, these multistore pharmacies saw a sharp increase in revenue. However, with many states opening back up again, this trend will not last, and with reimbursement continuing to remain flat, pharmacies must once again innovate to support their bottom line and patient care. The changes from the pandemic have been recognized as beneficial, and the expectation is that pharmacies can thrive if they keep meeting the needs of customers in this manner — there can’t be any reverting back to January 2020. The solution is a trend we are seeing across the pharmacy industry — innovate with automation — especially in centralized services.

Making the Most of Labor

Coming out of the pandemic, there is a dramatic change in entry-level wage growth, creating a challenge for both pharmacy staff and owners. The ability to hire and retain staff is proving to be difficult as the industry works to keep pharmacy teams in elevated roles of patient care, while ensuring business success.

It is more important than ever to be doing more with pharmacy staff. Instead of keeping pharmacists behind the counter filling medications across stores, they must be front of house. Cue central-fill technology. Instead of having every pharmacy fill its own medications, taking up valuable time, these efforts can be consolidated in one location. A small number of pharmacists in one location can perform a variety of key clinical activities, including verifications of medications for several stores. This frees up onsite labor — avoiding the need for additional staff — and creates the ability to focus on other streams of income.

Similarly, centralizing filling in one location can create a calmer behind-the-counter environment for pharmacies, promote social distancing, and allow the staff to provide value-added services, resulting in patient loyalty, retention of staff, and decreased burnout.

Strategic Inventory Control

As labor costs continue to climb and reimbursement from payers remains flat or on the decline, the profitability of the pharmacy continues to shrink. Consolidating the higher-cost medication inventory is a driver of improved cash flow and reduced waste. Central-fill technology can be a key to inventory reduction and provide the opportunity for strategic business initiatives such as medication delivery with the current stock — one trend that will undoubtedly stick around.

Moving the Industry Forward

During the pandemic, pharmacists became frontline care providers — testing patients for COVID-19, counseling and administering the vaccine, and expanding upon health hubs within the pharmacy. With this existing leverage, now is the time to take steps to reinvent pharmacy as a healthcare center and expand on these care services. The ability for patients to make an appointment at the pharmacy the same day instead of waiting for a primary care appointment to open is a trend that is here to stay. Having these services boosts profitability for the pharmacy, as well as recommits the focus to patient care.

With automation and a central-fill location, pharmacists can be performing consultations with patients, or performing these virtually via telehealth. The value of the pharmacist is in patient health and medication knowledge. Additionally, the staff can be out on the floor helping customers — building business relationships and revenue.

Innovation for Continued Success

The pandemic has created an immense opportunity to adapt to trends that will dramatically benefit the future of pharmacy, but only if we can get ahead of the curve. The industry must learn from the last 15 months, and adapt to the ever-changing landscape of healthcare delivery. Pharmacy leadership teams need to be asking themselves: Can I implement centralized services for all of my locations? The answer will be yes — there has never been a better time to commit to change or expand upon your existing value. While preconceived notions may involve too much time or money, these services are customizable for the unique needs of each pharmacy. The time is now to invest in success. CT