There are 10 key things pharmacies should be doing if they are to give themselves a chance for success in the post-February 1 world, say Bruce Annabel and Mal Scrymgeour   

As readers know, low dose codeine products requiring a prescription from 1 February is coming whether you’re ready or not! Unfortunately it removes one of the weapons in the OTC medicines armoury pharmacists can utilise helping patients and will likely have a significant financial impact.

MedsASSIST has been incredibly effective in recording and detecting misusers of OTC codeine. It facilitated pharmacist/patient engagement educating patients about the forthcoming changes and recommending alternatives relevant to their particular situation. In addition pharmacists worked with other patients buying codeine products educating them and suggesting efficacious options.   

As OTC codeine goes s4 in a matter of weeks, pharmacists will be called on more to further realise their potential as the trusted advisor in the pivotal role of transitioning patients to alternatives and, in some instances, collaborating with other health professionals. Its vital health consumers continue to regard pharmacy as an important source of efficacious advice and medicine solutions for pain.

In our March 2017 AJP article ‘Fork handles’ we presented the codeine financial data taken from 64 pharmacies of different sizes, locations and types from most states and territories. On average codeine s3 sales gross profit dollars of these pharmacies contribute 48% of total pain GP$, 14% of total OTC medicine department GP$ and 6.2% of overall pharmacy net profit!

The range varied from 5.9% to 8.6% proving codeine is a very big issue for patients and the financial health of pharmacies.

Those pharmacist owners who got their skates on early are well prepared. But, as usual some owners have done nothing. They are the ones employing the time honoured strategy of hope everything will be OK.

That won’t happen meaning immediate and positive action is required in the pharmacy by owners and their employed pharmacists.

With such a short time left to run here are our top ten critical issues you should be working on now:

1.Do your numbers – understand what this change means to your business income and bottom line.

2.Ensure MedsASSIST is being utilised fully until it becomes redundant.

3.Determine what alternative products and modalities to offer – offering a range of solutions to maximise coverage of as many patient pain issues as possible plus patient retention are the objectives. Thoughts include expanding existing more popular SKU facings of codeine alternatives, TENS, heat packs, private label offerings, compounded options etc.

4. Knowledge – pharmacists update knowledge in advising patients in both acute and chronic pain management solutions.

5.Pharmacists engage patients – work closely with patients. Explain the imminent changes and offer well thought through alternatives tailored specifically to each patient because many will not understand. The role of pharmacists as the medicine experts and trusted advisor is critical.

6.Pharmacists station themselves ‘out the front’. Dispensary technicians handle dispensary processing and administration functions for them. Pharmacists can’t engage and inform patients from the dispensary work bench!

7.Train assistants in a triage role particularly at peak trading times.

8.Collaborate with other health professionals – a holistic approach to patient pain management means collaborating with other health professionals such as GPs, physios, massage therapists, nutritionists, exercise physiologists etc. The number one objective is patient health and retention.

9.Don’t reduce shelf space – there will be additional space on the walls where codeine was presented, but much less in the S4 section behind the counter resulting from supply chain changes. Codeine sales will likely reduce and some lines have disappeared. Populate the space with the items referred to in 3 above. Retain the medicines and minor ailments ‘power wall’ solution.

10. ‘Free’ advice – unlike GPs, pharmacists don’t receive a professional fee when advising patients. Margin is the only source of remuneration so avoid discounting.       

Why not take the opposite position? Use the re-scheduling of codeine as an opportunity to reinvigorate the pain management category. Become the pain expert. Update product knowledge, expand the product range including other modalities and maintain the shelf space and power wall presentation.

Bruce Annabel is a pharmacy business consultant and Adjunct Professor of Pharmacy Management at QUT. Click here to email

Mal Scrymgeour is a retail management consultant and director of Zumo Retail Ltd. Click here to email