The importance of independence: community pharmacy strengthens with evolving landscape

Independent pharmacies are a vital source of care. Hallmarked by personalized, high quality and cost-effective care, their services meet the needs of patients in communities across the country. For decades, independent pharmacists have faced and overcome challenges, evolving to keep pace with the industry. Today, we are at yet another inflection point for these care providers who must once again evolve their business strategy to take on new pressures related to reimbursement burdens, shrinking margins and growing competition. As the industry dynamics change, a new arsenal of tools and solutions are helping independent pharmacists stay ahead so that they can do what they do best – help patients get and stay healthy.

Since stepping into the role of president of Good Neighbor Pharmacy a year ago, I've heard hundreds of stories that characterize independent pharmacists in many communities across the country. They develop close relationships with community members – creating an environment where families come back generation after generation. It is not uncommon for pharmacists to special order products or medications to treat a patient with a unique need. One story I recently heard, was about a pharmacist who stayed open late so a single working mother had time to get her child's prescription after finishing her shift at work. This type of above and beyond care happens thousands of times every day because independent pharmacists are always willing to go the extra mile to provide the customer service, support and high-touch care families need.

Independent pharmacists recognize the need to create more efficiency in order to keep their businesses patient-centric and are already taking advantage of products and services that are offered today. For example, pharmacists within our Good Neighbor Pharmacy program are using our expanded business coaching solutions to optimize and leverage their unique strengths. Since every independent pharmacy is different, our coaches provide flexible, customized solutions tailored to each pharmacy and their respective communities and patients. Coaches encourage pharmacists to break out from behind the bench and familiarize themselves with their customers' needs and perspectives. This can begin with something as simple as using the front door – allowing them to experience the first impressions that their customers experience. Or it may be more complex and involve the coach's analysis of data and trends, looking for opportunities to better meet their patients' needs. And knowing that a patient-centric pharmacy is built by more than just the pharmacist interaction, Coaches work closely with pharmacy leadership to ensure that all employees are properly trained and ready to fully engage with patients.

Understanding customer's wants and needs is important. As is utilizing time to make sure enough is allocated to hands-on patient care and maintaining the level of clinical support for which patients turn to their community pharmacists. Running a successful business also takes time. Independent pharmacists need to manage everything from front-end sales to back-end operational performance. This is especially important as the industry faces new legislative challenges and marketplace changes, like DIR fees. Consequently, a number of new technologies and services are now available to help independent pharmacists succeed despite these pressures. Using a “for pharmacists by pharmacists” approach, Good Neighbor Pharmacy has driven innovation, developing customizable solutions to help independent pharmacies streamline business operations and stay dedicated to patient care. For example, to manage the impact of direct and indirect remuneration (DIR) fees and associated hidden cash flow issues, we created the DIR Fee Estimator tool. The tool provides pharmacists with insight into fees by using real-time, claim-level data to estimate the fees and ensuring the most accurate information available is utilized to anticipate clawbacks. In speaking with our customers, we also identified the lack of ordering efficiency to be another issue taking up their time away from patients. In collaboration with our pharmacy customers, we developed ABC Order, a revamped platform that features a new user interface and enables pharmacists to order effortlessly, control inventory, access information and resolve issues quickly. Since we announced the new platform's pilot program in July 2016, more than 1,200 Good Neighbor Pharmacy customers have adopted ABC Order and are seeing improved store operations, resolved ordering issues and optimized front-end sales.

As these pharmacies become more and more important in communities across the country, it is essential to continue to support their growth. Fortunately, where there are retiring pharmacy owners, there are also a growing number of pharmacy school graduates and current independent owners showing interest in independent pharmacy ownership. With this demand in mind, AmerisourceBergen's Pharmacy Ownership Services guides both buyers and sellers through every step of their respective process. Dedicated pharmacy acquisition advisors walk sellers and buyers through the complex financial considerations and pave the way for a smooth transitional period. Both buyers and sellers maximize financial value the community they serve benefits from minimal impact on patients and staff.

There will always be a demand for community pharmacies, and there will always be new challenges that arise. But, with new challenges come new opportunities for independent pharmacies to further strengthen their businesses and the impact they make on the lives of those in their communities. With a keen focus on the future of pharmacy, AmerisourceBergen and Good Neighbor Pharmacy are continuing to invest in new solutions, working closely with community pharmacists to keep independent pharmacies independent and, together, build healthier futures.

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