Welcome to the Pharmacy Hunger Games

pharmacy hunger games: business woman with bow and arrow

Pharmacies are now being forced to compete more ferociously than ever: are the odds in your favour? wonders Mouhamad Zoghbi

Governments have used the technique of divide and conquer for centuries to increase their power and profits, so it didn’t come as a surprise when the Minister of Health stated that the reason behind the $1 discounted co-payment was to increase pharmacy competition.

That means it’s pharmacy against pharmacy while the reformer watches the 6CPA Hunger Games with excitement.

With up to $400 million in government savings, the $1 discounted co-payment is a difficult pill for pharmacy to swallow, so the ministry has intelligently changed the mechanism of administration, donned on the gloves and swapped a pill for a slippery suppository.

Pharmacy is under threat by the very people who are supposed to be protecting it, while the politics of cost savings are turning pharmacists against each other.

In a world where the bottom line has become king, we have been made to focus on paying the banks, paying the bills, paying the wages, paying… paying… paying… but we haven’t been paying attention to the most valuable asset we have, and that is the value community pharmacies can provide to the health of the people of our nation.

We do not have a choice on what is imposed upon us, but we do have a choice to pursue what is most valuable to us.

The ‘community pharmacy’ is the breeding ground for customer health outcomes, whereas the ‘retail pharmacy’ is the breeding ground for customer financial savings. With the current financial crisis, can you blame a father of three wanting to get the cheapest price because he can barely make ends meet? No, you can’t. So, what are we arguing for?

Please, do take this personally. Pharmacy has a great gift for self-destruction; pharmacy academics, proprietors and leaders are too busy making competitors out of each other.

I suggest that we stop criticising each other, stop the attacks on the warehouses and the discount models, stop the attacks on your next-door neighbour and, whether our hearts are together or apart, unite for the one cause: providing first-class service to the young father of two who is obese, depressed, over-worked and is more likely to die at 60 due to a heart attack or stroke.

How can we explain his illness and death when something could have been done about it, but we were too pre-occupied about competing and undercutting each other and forgot to serve a true purpose.

It is time to rise against the bottom line focus and wake up our flatlined hearts. It is time to fight the dollar with sincerity in our service to others, because sincerity creates loyalty, and loyalty is someone buying from you regardless of price.

That is your most valuable asset. It’s about looking beyond profit to make more profit.

Loyalty is created by focusing on the most valuable assets that you have direct control of, which I call the four pillars of pharmacy: your leadership, your team, your customers and your community.

Leadership is the foundation of a thriving pharmacy. Having the ability to inspire your team to advance in the cause of health and wellbeing for the people of our nation breaks the ‘working for the paycheque’ epidemic and ignites a deep desire to serve with pride.

Teams are the beating heart of our pharmacies. Yet I rarely see pharmacy teams. I see working groups who only focus on their pay and who constantly look at their watches, wanting to take a break.

Sadly the most energetic time when I see individual pharmacy staff is when they’re going home. Whereas a true team works in synergy for a common cause, they wear the same uniform, have the same signature on their paycheques and are united to serve as a great team should.

Customers are the soul of your pharmacy. I agree that many customers have become price conscious, and it’s hard to deal with, especially when you can’t feel your aching legs because you’ve been standing all day and you have to sneak a sandwich between scripts, you have customers waiting for your advice, representatives waiting to promote products and staff stretched to capacity.

Then in strolls a customer with two catalogues in his hands, arguing over a $1 difference in the shampoo.

Of course it’s ridiculous, but then again, he might only have $20 to last his whole family the next two weeks. A lot of us have been there. I know what that’s like, because I was once like him, and it doesn’t mean I didn’t value my health and wellbeing, I just couldn’t afford it.

Community is the greatest untapped potential in pharmacy. Do you consistently seek to educate your local schools on the implications of drug abuse, or the local crochet club on how to reduce pain in their joints diabetes?

The majority of pharmacists are confined to the pharmacy walls: the only time they know how the weather is outside is through customers. Seldom do they ever reach out to the community and educate them on community-based health and safety issues such as anti-drug abuse at high schools and the importance of medicines compliance at local church groups.

Pharmacies need to be in touch with their communities’ health issues by getting out of their pharmacies and connecting with the community.

I believe that the time has come for pharmacy to prescribe its own destiny. Stop focusing on what we can not control, and focus on the factors that you have control over: your leadership, team, customers and community. With this focus, you can defeat the tyranny of cost saving reforms and raise your community pharmacy flag in the heartlands of your communities.

Be the leaders that will help transform your pharmacy from just another job into a team connected by purpose:d like any tightly knit team who all wear the same uniform and have the same signature on their pay-cheques… you can all have the same mission, to put customers first and advance the health and wellbeing of your community.


Mouhamad Zoghbi is the author and founder of ‘The Prescription For Pharmacy’. He would like to give away 50 copies of his book ‘The Prescription For Pharmacy’ to pharmacists who have a sincere desire to improve their customer service.

Please e-mail Mouhamad at mouhamad@theprescriptionforpharmacy.com and include your name, pharmacy, address and the word “AJP”.

Previous Slightly fewer avoiding filling scripts on cost
Next ASMI arguing for continued pharmacy codeine access

NOTICE: It can sometimes take awhile for comment submissions to go through, please be patient.


  1. Paulina Stehlik

    Agreed. High time pharmacists stop whinging and stand up for their profession. Every other health profession is able fight for their rights as a united front while we prostitute ourselves for the bottom line.

    • Mouhamad Zoghbi

      Hi Paulina,
      It’s amazing how so many of us are totally fed up with the whinging and whining. It is about time that we wake up to ourselves as health care professionals and look beyond the profit to make more profit.

      • JimT

        I’m not whinging or whining, far from it, it’s just that good intentions don’t pay the bills. I’ve been in the game almost as long as Albervin (1980) proprieter for 15 years and rest as manager/locum, and family has been involved in customer service business since I could walk and Mum still participates at 75 yrs young because she loves it. Even she looks aat the numbers and says why would you own a pharmacy these days….the wages….the return on investment for the responsibilty jus doesn’t add up. Those who are networking the system like multi-pharmacy proprietors or the many advisors pedaling their wares in a stressed environment are potentially making a few extra bucks….employed pharmacists or smaller one man shows are really struggling…time for another Bex and a lie down 🙂

  2. JimT

    I an often troubled by the “academics” who talk about customer service etc etc. But there is an elephant in the room which is the dilema of employee pharmacists vs employer pharmacists. It is well and good for pharmacists staff to spend 45 minutes counselling a patient who may end up purchasing a Script,Band-aid and a packet of jelly beans, albeit a net profit of say $6 at a wages cost (let alone all the other associated costs of running business) of say $18. Remuneration by definition is just covering cost of supply(NHS)……..we have to start charging for counselling time!!!

    • Mouhamad Zoghbi

      Hi Jim,
      I agree that pharmacy needs to be remunerated for their efforts – yet we need to focus on what we can do and not what we can’t really have.
      You have a couple of options:
      1.Create your own remuneration process.
      There are several pharmacists who have done this and it is working well.

      2.Use ‘Empathetic Based Selling’
      When you’re short staffed and standing on your aching feet all day, spending time with a patient who will buy something for $6 isn’t very rewarding… for that moment – But it could be more rewarding than you think.
      Why? Customers seek value whether they are price conscious or health conscious. That time you spent and sold for $6 may be translated to a higher sale in the future.
      What is important to note though is not to push a sale or ‘Up-Sell’ in order to make up for the time you spent, because people feel that you may be imposing the sale upon them they repel – that means you have thrown all your hard work away.
      The solution to this is what I call ‘Empathetic Based Selling’ which is a value added technique that allows you to sell without pushing the sale with two important results.
      1. Improving the health outcomes of your patients
      2. Significantly increasing the sales within your pharmacy
      Jim, If you or any readers would like to further understand ‘Empathetic Based Selling’ please let me know by e-mailing me at mouhamad@theprescriptionforpharmacy OR just sending a reply within this forum. I can send you great ways to improve health outcomes and profitability at the same time.
      Thanks Jim

  3. Albervin

    I have worked as a proprietor and locum since 1976.There have been massive changes in community/retail pharmacy since then. In the 1980s I saw my bottom line plummet when the Hawke government reduced the margin on PBS items. Suddenly all the insulin became a burden to my inventory but as the ‘go to’ diabetic supply pharmacy in town I could not turn away a customer. I minimized my losses by clawing discounts and rebates from suppliers. I improved the knowledge of staff via staff meetings and educationals from suppliers. This was before the Guild became involved in education. I soon learned that the Guild executive were either owners of very large pharmacies, pharmacy chains or wannabe politicians so I stopped trusting them to be my voice in Canberra or anywhere else.

    • Mouhamad Zoghbi

      Hello Albervin,
      When I was a kid back in the 90’s my dad had a candy shop in Chester Hill, NSW. In front of that shop was a pharmacy, each time I raided the ice creams (which was very often:) I could see the whole pharmacy and I’d watch the staff chatting away with patients, there was an caring vibe about pharmacy back then.
      My dad always said “Son, I can see you wearing that white robe, it would really suit you”
      Fast forward 20 years… What on earth has happened? Humanity has pulled the plug on being human!
      If you tell your wife “I love you” she’d say “What have you done?”
      If a wife says “I love you” The husband says ‘What do you want?”
      It sounds funny, but you’re either looked at as an idiot if you are generous or you have poor business acumen if you don’t shut down your neighbours business.
      I believe there is a solution, and that is for like minded people to unite and create forums, write books, articles, case studies so that we can learn how to unshackle ourselves from the bottom line pressures imposed upon us and create the balance between the valuable ‘Community Pharmacy’ and the ‘Retail Pharmacy’.
      Albervin, your experience and insight seems to be very valuable, I would love to establish contact with people like you to advance the health care profession, please feel free to contact me on my e-mail address on the link above.
      thank you for your comment and good luck with the stock market:)

Leave a reply