Inside This Issue - Opinion
Rx determined to shape its own destiny
October 8th, 2012
In his speech during one of the business sessions at the recent National Association of Chain Drug Stores Pharmacy and Technology Conference in Denver, Steve Anderson, NACDS’ president and chief executive officer, talked about the profession’s newfound assertiveness.
“Effectiveness in communicating pharmacy’s value does not mark NACDS’ progress alone,” he said. “It reflects a resurgence across pharmacy — a rising up — a commitment to tell pharmacy’s story and demand a response. We are done talking to ourselves within the pharmacy community. We are done preaching to the choir. We are reaching out to elected officials, to the media, to health care partners, to employers, to patients, to those who have a say and a stake in the way patients get their care in the U.S.A.”
The gradual adoption of a more aggressive attitude, a process that the association has fostered over a period of many years, has culminated at a propitious moment. A confluence of developments within the industry and in the broader health care sector has created a potentially transformative moment. Pharmacy operators are determined to expand the scope of practice beyond dispensing to include immunizations, routine diagnostic testing and a stepped-up level of patient counseling and medication therapy management.
Many changes in the nation’s health care system bode well for that transformation. When the major provisions of the Affordable Care Act take effect in 2014 approximately 30 million people will join the ranks of the insured, aggravating the current shortage of primary care physicians and opening up opportunities for retail pharmacists to help fill the gap.
The need to rein in overall health care spending, which remains on an unsustainable course and promises to exacerbate the country’s already precarious fiscal situation, plays to other strengths of community pharmacy — access and affordability. As experience with flu shots demonstrates, the industry has the wherewithal to provide many essential health care services more efficiently than in the practice settings where they have traditionally been delivered.
Cost pressures are, however, a double-edged sword. Even while pharmacies look for new sources of revenue as they strive to become true neighborhood health care centers, many payers in the public and private sectors are attempting to reduce reimbursements for dispensing pharmaceutical products.
“There are entities out there that want to commoditize our industry,” Greg Wasson, NACDS chairman and president and CEO of Walgreens, told conference attendees before enumerating many of the industry’s strengths — and citing survey results that show consumers recognize them.
“People absolutely see the value of community pharmacy,” he said. “The future is pulling us to it. Unfortunately, many industries and companies back away from the future and do more of the same because it’s more comfortable than taking a stand. We must embrace the future.”
The validity of the assessment offered by Anderson and Wasson came during a roundtable discussion involving representatives of a dozen key industry players convened by Chain Drug Review in conjunction with the NACDS meeting. The panel, which, in addition to Wasson and Anderson, included executives from CVS Caremark, Rite Aid, BI-LO/Winn-Dixie, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, Emdeon, Parata Systems, RelayHealth, ScriptPro and Upsher-Smith, also shed light on what pharmacy needs to do to realize that vision.
Participants concurred that the current situation in health care is in flux, with the expectations of patients and payers and the roles and responsibilities of providers evolving in fundamental ways. For those willing and able to grapple with the uncertainties, the changing business environment presents very real opportunities.
To seize them, retailers must harness the power of technology to enable pharmacists to devote more time to patient care and raise the level of engagement among the people they treat; expand the range of services they offer; and develop new models for collaborating with other health care providers. Those things, together with the rising up Anderson noted, will put the profession in position to finally win full recognition as an integral part of the health care team.