‘You are pharmacists, not retailers.’

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Pharmacy business expert John Thornett says he picked up some valuable ideas at the recent Pharmacy Connect conference. Here’s his seven key learnings

I find Sydney a very busy and noisy place in comparison with my home town of Perth, where I wake up listening to the birds. Anyway, I came to Pharmacy Connect in early September to meet new people, build relationships, look for opportunities for my clients, and of course to learn.

One thing that really stood out for me this year is that pharmacy is really at a cross roads. I believe pharmacy is on the cusp of a new wave of community-based pharmacies that are more health focused than ever before, and less retail focused.

The worth of a pharmacist at present is being played out on a pricing battlefront and a turf war being pharmacy, corporate’s and GP’s.

Let us look at some of the facts that were spoken about at the conference. 17% of pharmacies are operating at a loss. GP’s earnings are on average 3 times higher than pharmacists. The public don’t view pharmacists as primary healthcare providers. Unfortunately, they are viewed as retailers.

The profit model for pharmacy was traditionally based on moving volumes of product at a profit margin. Whole stores based on traditional bricks and mortar retail models, with product displays, gift lines, and equating the value of a pharmacy purely based on price. So, who can blame the public for thinking this? Pharmacists have become their own worst enemy. The chase for the dollar, with a business model based on product.

Too much focus has been based on product and not primary health. When that happens, a pharmacist’s worth become commoditized, and pricing and convenience become the differentiators. The traditional profession of a pharmacist has been lost, and its their own fault. That left the door open to others to disrupt the industry and that is exactly what happened.

Look at the landscape now, it is broken up into three segments in my opinion. On one side you have the discounters. On the other side the high service pharmacies and in the middle everyone else, trying to be all things to all people. Going forward, I believe you are either a retailer or you’re not. If you’re a retailer, price, product and convenience are the only things customers are interested in. Then it becomes a race to the bottom, this a war that cannot have a good outcome for anyone.

The group in the middle, run the risk of not standing for anything. Trying to be retailers in a pricing war. Trying to be a health service focussed pharmacy but not at the level that is required. Basically, trees getting lost in the forest. Aiming at nothing and hitting in with surprising accuracy.

Then there are the pure health focussed pharmacies, there are not many playing in this field. There are not that many that I would classify as a health focussed pharmacy. But to me, this is the where community pharmacies need to be, and it is where most need to evolve into.

If you want to be a pharmacist in its true nature, we need to bring back the profession that is pharmacy. The culture needs to change. It should not be based on product, it should be based on healthcare needs. A true healthcare-based pharmacy is what needs to be the focus of pharmacy owners. A focus on health services. Having the public recognise your skills and expertise, so that they come to the pharmacy first. Primary health, not secondary health or ancillary health.

So how do we transform from where you are now to where we need to be? It is not easy. But it can be done, and it requires pharmacy owners to be true leaders, change the culture in your store and set a path towards what being a pharmacist truly means to you. Look at where you are now, determine a vision for what you want to become, then determine the path that you need to take.

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Here are seven ideas that came up during the conference:

1. Set the culture within your team so that they are truly aligned to your values as a pharmacy. A community-based pharmacy focussed on improving health outcomes as a primary focus.

2. Lack of accessibility by the public to health advice has potential poor outcomes. E.g. Dr Google and the overuse of hospital emergency departments. Pharmacists can have a crucial role of preventing this. They are convenient and accessible. The biggest advantage you have is your accessibility and your knowledge, use this to your advantage. Your community places affordability and accessibility as high priorities.

3. You have patients, not customers. There is a big difference, and the emphasis here is the culture you set in your business. You need to reset how your community sees you. You are not a retailer, you are a health professional, you have a clinical setting, you have a pharmacy-patient relationship.

4. Collaborate with the local GP’s and healthcare specialists, on how together you can all work as a team to improve your community’s health concerns. You are not competing. You are working together for a common cause.

5. Be clear about your messaging in your marketing. Don’t be product driven, be health driven. Services should be your focus and your drive.

6. Focussing on relationships with your community so that you become a first point of contact, with a relationship built on trust and supported by the value of the advice you provide.

7. Identify what services can be provided to your community. Customer paid services are possible and should be the focus. Affordable, convenient, results driven services.

The evolution of pharmacy to this point has led us down the wrong path. Pharmacy has lost its profession, to its own detriment. To such an extent that it may have lost is lustre with the next generation. But I think is it on everyone in this community to drive pharmacy forward, for it to be a crucial link in the community health landscape.

For pharmacists to be recognised for their skill, accessibility and health driven environments. You are not retailers, you are pharmacists.

John Thornett is Director of Peak Strategies, pharmacy specialist accountants


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  1. Paulina Stehlik

    Here here!!

  2. william hau kin so

    Totally agree, John.
    Let’s focus on offering solutions to patients problems, not products to customers needs.
    If you want to buy a book, you goes to bookshop.
    If you want to learn something, you goes to college.
    Let’s be a teacher not a sale 😇

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