A man walks into a pharmacy and orders a beer…
Sadly, this is not a joke.
These days, you can walk into a pharmacy and walk out with not only your prescription, but also eggs, makeup, a camera, you name it.
This merchandise creep, although at first may have been for the sake of convenience, has undoubtedly now led to a fundamental change in how pharmacy is run.
What are the consequences of this creep?
Commoditization. Pharmacy is slowly becoming commoditized.
If you ask the majority, they will tell you their reasons to go to pharmacy x is based largely on convenience, price, and speed.
Commoditization is bad for pharmacy, as convenience, price and speed undermines safety.
When convenience is key, the patient will go to the closest pharmacy or one that carries toilet paper, not go to a pharmacy that knows them and is familiar with their health and medications. When price is paramount, these pharmacies offset their low margins with high volume and pharmacy understaffing that will undoubtedly lead to more time behind the counter and less time with patient care. And finally, speed — when has speed ever been associated with accuracy?
Commoditization, with its eye on the monetary prize strips us from our roles as health care providers as we lose our faculty to create meaningful relationships with our clients and to deliver good health care.
If we remain muted, pharmacy practice will continue to be driven behind the counter and the physical barrier will ironically act as a figurative block as we lose confidence in our clinical skills.
What is not missed will soon be forgotten. By riding the commodity train we are lining up to soon be replaced by robots and computers. Robots can already outperform many of our behind-the-counter tasks with better accuracy and speed. And admittedly, we are referring to computers to help us with our clinical decisions.
We need to worry when the switch is eventually flipped.
What technology cannot currently encroach on is the human touch, if you will. A pharmacist on the client’s side of the counter ready to listen and able to anticipate our client’s needs.
My hope is that this does serve as an empty warning.
My hope is that this message speaks to the hopeful pharmacist in all of us.
Ask yourself, are you practicing in the manner you envisioned when you started in your career? Do you see yourself as a health care provider?
Litmus test: does your patient in need of an antibiotic wait in queue?
How did we get here? How do we get off the commodity train and begin to offer the care we are more than capable of providing to our patients? True service. What is the difference between a commodity-based pharmacy practice and service-based pharmacy practice?
To help answer that question, do you feel more pressure to either
A) deliver that bottle to the customer, or
B) invest your time to ameliorate your client’s health care outcomes
One study serves as a good mirror: community pharmacists view themselves primarily as “dispensers of medication,” and not patient-centered practitioners.
In this commoditized environment, we must radically change how we identify ourselves — we need a culture shift.
Against the odds, we must take back pharmacy. Let’s take agency in our profession and reclaim the importance of our roles as medication and health care experts.
Dare to be courageous. The future of our profession depends on it.
Not only that, our patients’ lives depend on it.