ComputerTalk: Let’s begin by hearing how long Datascan has been serving the pharmacy market and what got you started.
Kevin Minassian: Datascan was originally started 42 years ago by my father. He was self-taught in IT and programming, as he was not even able to finish high school when my family fled Bulgaria after it became Communist. After failing with the first pharmacy system, he attempted to resell, and later bought the code for what was the basis for our first pharmacy software. Even though I did not come in to buy the company from him until 2009, I used to help out here when I was a kid.
Back then I helped build computers from scratch and did onsite service calls from time to time. For a decade after college, I started and built an AV company that specialized in flat screens back when they were rare. I built that company from the ground up to over $6 million a year in sales. In 2009, a year after we lost my brother, my father approached me one last time to get involved, and he agreed to sell the company to me.
I used the prior decade of experience growing my business to come here with a fresh perspective to transform Datascan and our products into a new company. Today, we are nearly four times the size we were back then, but still continue to be a boutique pharmacy software firm concentrated on our clients and their needs.
CT: Datascan is one of the few remaining family-owned pharmacy software vendors. Why is that important, and what’s the difference between you and the competition?
Minassian: I find it perplexing that independent pharmacy owners a: know what sets them apart from their local chain, which keeps their patients coming back, and b: want their community to support their privately owned business while they’re bullied by the behemoth PBMs [pharmacy benefit managers] and chain pharmacies trying to put them out of business. Yet so many of them decide to work with pharmacy software vendors that are owned by billion-dollar hedge funds, or wholesalers.
Datascan is family owned and family focused. So many of our clients have been with us for decades, and for good reason. When you need to escalate an issue or concern, the vice president gets involved here, not some manager. And when needed, she sits down with me and the team to make sure we come up with a long-term resolution. We are no-nonsense here. We expect the best from our support team.
All we ask of our clients is communication. If you feel unheard, if an issue keeps rearing its ugly head, simply tell the support team or email our VP that you need it escalated. The majority of our competitors are owned by private equity firms that are focused on raising prices, cutting costs, maximizing profits, and flipping the company every five or six years for the benefit of their investors. We are focused on giving our clients the fastest response times, the most up-to-date technology, and the best overall experience they can find on the market today.
CT: The pharmacy software landscape has certainly changed in recent years. What kind of changes are you seeing, and how are they impacting community-based pharmacies?
Minassian: My vice president, Sarah Callioras, and I speak about this frequently. She is our head of sales and interacts with folks constantly who are getting frustrated regarding the relationship with their current pharmacy software companies. Most are expressing a dire need for change. The most frequent reason we hear is simply customer support. They are seeing common wait times of 10 minutes or more, sometimes in excess of 30, just to speak with a support person.
They now recognize that being one of thousands of customers means they’ve lost their voice. Customer ideas show up less and less in the software. Service levels are going down, yet, amazingly, the cost of these competing systems continues to go up. Let’s face it, if you’re a private equity firm, your focus is delivering your investors returns — otherwise you won’t have investors for very long. In order for many of them to do so, they keep raising prices and cutting costs — and inevitably it is resulting in declining customer satisfaction.
I have no partners, no board of directors, and no investors. We own our software and control the direction and changes that occur to it. In order for my vision to work when I bought this company, we had to set ourselves apart. We are proud of the reputation we have built. Search around the internet and you can easily find our reviews and what our clients think about us.
Our average inbound support call waits are less than 60 seconds to speak with a live person who is trained in all areas of our business, from our products to IT. We have a structured program for accepting customer feature requests and ideas, with most coded into the software, especially if the idea will benefit others. I, the owner of the company, am involved day to day whether I am physically here or not. Our technology is always evolving — it’s feature rich, and we are in the middle of revamping most of it from the ground up for longevity.
CT: Now tell us about some of the features in your software that you see supporting the longevity of independent pharmacies.
Minassian: For independent pharmacies to thrive long term, they need to focus on efficiency through automation, profit centers outside of prescription drugs, and customer conveniences. The more you automate in your pharmacy, the less manual labor, the less labor expense you incur. Labor is one of the larger expenses, so why not put the technology to work for you? Auto refill is only scratching the surface, but what about automatic communication with patients? The ability to auto-send doctors new prescription requests when the last fill is used on a maintenance medication, for example.
Profits in the backend of pharmacy have been dwindling for decades, so the ability to build out profitability in areas like compounding, OTC [over the counter] sales, DME [durable medical equipment] and so on is important. Having a robust built-in compounding module in our software has helped us grow, and our clients run their compounding business without requiring additional software. The same with our LTC [long-term care] module. We built our integrated point-of-sale product 20 years ago from the ground up, and it helps build OTC sales through messaging, coupon discounts, a robust customizable rewards program, and more.
Not to mention both our pharmacy software and POS [point of sale] systems save you from losses via insurance claims, but also have the ability to flag profits or losses below thresholds, including estimated DIR [direct and indirect remuneration] and GER [generic effective rate] fees; can help shop across vendors for best pricing when ordering; and give you a detailed profit picture of each patient across OTC and prescription sales.
I say it all the time: We live in an Amazon Prime and Netflix world. The days of searching countless stores for what you need are over. Knowing your customer base is spoiled with convenience everywhere they turn today, knowing the chain pharmacies are offering them all kinds of conveniences, how could you not focus on this?
Patients should be able to log onto their mobile app, see their prescription history, quickly queue up what they want refilled, and receive a notification when it’s either ready for pickup or out for delivery. They should never have to call you — not for a refill, not for a new prescription on a maintenance drug, not to find out if they have refills left.
Today, our software even gives you the ability to have two-way texting with patients — from the simple ability to autosend a text for a refill due that allows them the ability to choose yes or no to refill, all the way to the ability to receive and respond to questions from patients. The easier you make life for your patients, the less likely they are to leave you for someone else. That is the same philosophy we follow here with our clients, and it is definitely working.
CT: Software support plays an important role in vendor selection. Do you see an independent software vendor such as Datascan having an advantage here, and why is this?
Minassian: 1000% we do! Our support is night and day compared with the majority of our competitors. To begin with, we don’t want you waiting. As I mentioned earlier, our average response time during business hours is 60 seconds or less. After hours, on weekends, and on holidays, we strive for 10 minutes or less, and if support gets backed up in a rare occasion during after hours, the entire team is there to chip in and assist.
We have many members of our support team who have been with us for over a decade. We strive for low turnover, so you get to know our team, and they get to know you. It really is more like a family. Every single member of our support team is trained and constantly updated on all of our products and IT, including hardware and basic networking, operating systems, virus/malware symptoms, backup systems, and the list goes on.
We don’t want specialists who are separated by category answering the phones — that creates backup. We want anyone who responds to have the ability to assist at all times. We are seeing one of our competitors pushing more and more of their team overseas. Many of the larger corporate conglomerates are seeing turnover as their culture and management have changed after they were acquired.
CT: Is there anything else you would like to add in closing?
Minassian: As a dear family friend, who owned quite a successful business, once said, “I would rather be a big fish in a small pond, than a small fish in a big pond.” That resonated with me even dating back to my first businesses in and just after college. So, for any independent community pharmacy owners out there who are tired of being a number, tired of waiting to be helped, but are afraid of change, don’t be.
There are a few of us still left that are independently owned, that know our customers, and where you have a voice. And guess what — we not only have cutting-edge features and technology, but we are offering it at better pricing, and backed by the service you deserve. The same service you give to your customers day in, and day out. CT