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If you’re a pharmacist looking to improve your pharmacy in 2020, what’s the next big thing? Perhaps it’s starting a med sync program, using eCare plans, or adding a piece of automation. Diana Lischin, R.Ph., owner of Coats Pharmacy and Angier Family Pharmacy in the Raleigh, N.C. area, has three priorities: build a customer base at her new pharmacy (Angier), add adherence packaging automation, and continue to put her patients first with optimal care. One thing, though, is not new, and yet it drives all her business decisions for her pharmacy. First and foremost, Lischin wants to be the go-to pharmacy that serves its patients better than anyone else.
“The next big thing does not require reinventing the wheel, but it does mean paying attention to what other pharmacists are doing, and seeing where you can apply those ideas in your pharmacy.”
What’s interesting about Lischin’s take on “the next big thing” is that it’s as much about the intangibles in business as it is about technology. Attitude and adaptability she says, are the key. Pharmacists who are positive and looking for unique services to combine with traditional dispensing will find success. It’s not easy, but it’s what pharmacy needs to do in order to survive the current hostile environment independent pharmacy finds itself in, she says.
“The next big thing does not require reinventing the wheel, but it does mean paying attention to what other pharmacists are doing, and seeing where you can apply those ideas in your pharmacy,” she says.
Lischin, who graduated from the University of North Carolina Eschelman School of Pharmacy and has practiced pharmacy for over 30 years, is in many ways a classic community pharmacist: fiercely protective of her patients, managing the business side of her pharmacy while making decisions to start new programs and employing technology to maximize efficiencies. In a way Lischin’s goal is to maintain many of the characteristics that have kept the pharmacy going since her father opened it in 1980, calling customers by their names when they walk into the pharmacy, and providing personalized, accessible service from medication reviews to immunizations and delivery.
To do this, she looks to her PioneerRx pharmacy system and ScriptPro robotics to make the pharmacy as efficient and effective as possible. “Right now the business aspect is the most important focus in the pharmacy,” she says. “Unfortunately, if you can’t be profitable, you can’t stay in business, that’s just the way it is at this moment.”
Lischin praises the breadth of functionality in the PioneerRx system, coordinating the pieces of information the staff needs to fill prescriptions and manage patient care. The workhorse in the Coats location is the ScriptPro robot, which handles over 60% of the store’s volume, filling 150 of the most popular drugs. Lischin decided on ScriptPro based on a recommendation from a colleague at a wholesaler show. “It’s a counting robot. And there’s something to be said for a counting robot. When you make an investment like this, you have to know what niche you need to fill. As I branch out and do more with other aspects of pharmacy, I know there are other units that might fit into different niches,” she says. “I want to focus on that efficiency because right now it’s very labor intensive, which is fine while you’re building the business. But we’ve almost gotten the business to where we need the automation.”
For example, in 2020 Lischin will look into adherence packaging systems and the automation to support it. She will visit other stores to see what peers are doing, and decide the best way to integrate technology into the retail business. Coats has done a good job with community outreach by offering immunizations both in-store and out, at schools, offices, and for homebound people.
The new location, Angier Family Pharmacy, is 10 minutes away in a growing suburb of Raleigh with a population of 5,000. With only one chain store to compete with Lischin sees an opportunity to give the community the independent pharmacy experience. Although it’s been a lot of hard work for the past two years she has learned a lot. “And I’ve rethought a lot of things that I thought I knew by having a well-positioned older store that still does an enormous amount of business. When you have a new store, you have to sell yourself with each interaction and fight for every prescription that you get. But, with the new store, we have the opportunity to try new things, perfect them, and then implement them in the busier store.”
In her research for new ideas around technology solutions or clinical programs, Lischin talks to other pharmacists and visit pharmacies when she travels to see what’s working. She also has a pharmacy-specific accountant who operates and runs pharmacies in over 40 states. Cliff Holt, R.Ph., owner of Hurricane Pharmacy in Hurricane Utah in particular is a go-to resource for Lischin. “There’s a reason why Cliff is as successful as he is. He has a vision and he has done some incredible things. He loves technology and he doesn’t mind investing in technology. I’ve been to his store and I can see how I want to maybe apply some of those ideas to my pharmacy.”
Adapt and Survive
In the end, Lischin may not plan to reinvent the wheel in pharmacy, but she’s crystal clear on her goals. “The role of a rural community pharmacist is as a last line of defense between patients and their health,” says Lischin. “We can be objective and look at all the pieces of information and advise people who might not know who else that they can talk to. With all the access to information, it’s not just what you’re reading, it’s how it fits into your health picture. And so that’s where they really need a good, knowledgeable pharmacist, because we really are the drug experts.”
The work, Lischin knows, won’t be easy to build her adherence program and a customer base at the Angier location. She knows the reality is not easy for community pharmacy with a lack of political clout around PBM (pharmacy benefit manager) reform and chains that come into small towns like hers, looking to erode the independent customer base. Lischin’s dedication and belief in the role of community pharmacy is steadfast. “You roll with the punches and you adapt and that’s how you survive, by adapting,” she says. “And at my age, you know, it’s nice to know that I can adapt, that I can learn new things.” Even new technology. “Of course my staff will tell you they have to teach me three times,” Lischin says with a laugh. “Well I get that teaching me is hard, but that’s okay. I’m willing to try.”