Care Transformation Center Blog

4 key questions to ask when building your retail pharmacy strategy

by Samantha Freedman

In our conversations with members across the nation, we have learned that retail pharmacy strategy often takes a backseat to other institution- and system-wide priorities.

Many of our members have inherited an established retail pharmacy or have been tasked with implementing one on short notice. Neither instance gives our pharmacy leaders the time to think critically about retail pharmacy's role in organizational goals or to identify the features and services that will drive prescription volumes.

Retail pharmacy not only has the potential to bring in new revenues, but it also addresses many core challenges in care delivery including medication management, care continuity, and the patient experience. Regardless of your existing pharmacy infrastructure, now is the time to evaluate your retail pharmacy strategy to maximize these benefits.

Here are four key questions to ask—and answer—when looking at your retail pharmacy investment and expansion. Use these questions to build a new retail pharmacy strategy or revisit them periodically to refresh your existing approach.

1. Which patient populations should our retail pharmacies target?

While the patient populations that you target depend on your organization's priorities, it is important that you understand the population's needs—and those of their care providers—to achieve high capture rates.

I recently spoke with a health system in the South that started a successful med-to-bed program last year. Leaders told me that one key to their success was seeking to understand the unique characteristics of each inpatient unit prior to program roll out. By customizing the program for each unit, they now capture more than 80% of discharge prescriptions for eligible patients.

2. How can we improve patient access at our retail pharmacies?

To drive prescription volumes and promote care continuity, you must make sure your patients can access the retail pharmacy in the first place. When evaluating your retail pharmacy investment, first make sure that your retail operations are accessible to your patients.

Learn how our experts can partner with your executive team to support your strategic planning process.

However, despite the golden rule of real estate, location alone doesn't equal success. Your retail pharmacy also needs to provide convenience. Depending on your patients' needs, convenience can include co-located services, easy parking, extended hours, or mail order refill programs. Not only do these services enhance the appeal of your retail pharmacy operation to your patients, but they also impact your long-term financial viability.

3. Which clinical services should we provide?

Keep in mind that retail pharmacies can elevate your organization's ability to reach population health goals. Clinical support services housed within the retail pharmacy provide an opportunity to go beyond dispensing prescriptions.

These clinical interventions—including bedside delivery programs, chronic disease clinics, and drug overdose prevention programs—improve pharmacy-related outcomes, support medication education, and integrate health and wellness into a pharmacy visit. In addition, they give patients a reason to return to the pharmacy on a consistent basis, ultimately driving additional prescription volumes.

4. What is our investment or partnership strategy?

One of the most contentious—and strategic—questions facing health system pharmacies is whether to operate retail pharmacies independently or to partner with a retail pharmacy chain.

Partnerships often appeal to both health systems and retail chains because of the strengths that the other brings to the table. Health systems have relationships with patients and prescribers and often convey a strong brand name. Retail chains have business expertise, attractive retail locations, and the scale to negotiate favorable terms with payers and suppliers.

However, health system goals do not perfectly align with those of the retail chain. To make a partnership work, both sides need to compromise. Topics for negotiation may include accountability for quality and volumes goals and data sharing. Open communication, including EHR access and access to patient satisfaction and adherence data, ensures that patients receive timely medications and promotes the transparency necessary to adjust the partnership as needed.

Stay tuned to the Pharmacy Executive Forum as we dive deeper into retail pharmacy planning and operations in the coming months.


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