5 lessons learned in 2020 from a community pharmacist


Nearly 40 years ago, Jeff Kirchner started as stock boy at Streu’s Pharmacy Bay Natural in Green Bay, Wisconsin. He is now the CEO and majority owner of the company which has about 90 employees, including 11 pharmacists, and which operates both a community pharmacy and long-term care pharmacy.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, Kirchner has continued to learn, change and improve to make his business more successful.

Some of Kirchner’s specific lessons from 2020 might apply to your pharmacy, and the process of reflecting to draw lessons from 2020 that can be applied in 2021 applies to all pharmacies.

1. Repetition pays dividends

Streu’s added about 400 patients to its med sync program over six months in 2020. Many were existing patients who had declined previous invitations to receive their medications once a month. What changed?  “A year ago, many people would say, ‘I don’t mind coming to the pharmacy two or three times a month,’” Kirchner noted. “But some people look at any healthcare facility—including a pharmacy—and are reluctant to go in.”

During the pandemic, the pharmacy called every delivery patient who was not on med sync and asked them again if they would like to receive their medications once a month. Many agreed to participate.

Lesson: If at first some patients choose not to participate in a beneficial program, don’t hesitate to ask them again. When their circumstances change, their interest in participating might also change.

2. Put your foot in the door, and keep it there

Streu’s Pharmacy already offered injections, including for example Shingrix in long-term care facilities and Vivitrol, a monthly injection to help fight addiction. During the pandemic, some psychiatric providers stopped in-person appointments. Streu’s pharmacy stepped in and took over administering injections for some patients.

“A lot of [providers] really don’t want to take this back now. Having Streu’s provide these injections to patients has helped them tremendously,” Kirchner said.

With Streu’s doing the injections, scheduling is easier for both the providers and the patients. Individuals can schedule an appointment at the pharmacy or can simply walk in.

Lesson: Seize opportunities to provide services where a provider might prefer not to offer the service, and your pharmacy could easily (and profitably) provide it.

3. Know your niche, and grow it

While some rural pharmacies benefitted by offering COVID-19 testing in 2020, Kirchner said his community had plenty of other testing options. So, Streu’s chose not to be just another option.

However, Streu’s is administering the COVID-19 vaccine in Phase 1 to patients in the LTC facilities the company already serves, partnering with a local hospital that will provide the cold storage.

Lesson: Be selective in picking and choosing what to do. Streu’s saw little value-add in being just another testing location, but sees significant value in providing vaccines. Know where needs exist and where your capabilities fit best.

4. Rethink how you work

A disruption can be the nudge you need to make a significant change. “For years we’ve talked about equipping some staff members to work remotely, but we didn’t act on it. COVID-19 essentially forced us to have some people work offsite,” Kirchner said, handling tasks such as billing.

A new phone system installed last year already had the capability to enable employees to work remotely and to then page them as necessary, just as if they were in the store. Streu’s found that when these employees worked remotely their productivity improved because they had fewer interruptions than in the pharmacy.

Lesson: Change is hard. But during a crisis or a disruption, change is necessary. Don’t resist change; see the disruption as an opportunity to get better, faster, more efficient.

5. Serve patients where they are: Education at home

Because of the pandemic, Streu’s Pharmacy adapted how it delivers patient education.

For people who attended a class in person, Streu’s made sure that all attendees were socially distanced. However, the bigger shift was beginning to offer classes to customers virtually. With a territory that covers up to 150 miles, Kirchner realized that offering education virtually—which the pharmacy had never done before—provides an important new benefit. As a result, Streu’s is considering continuing to provide virtual classes in 2021, allowing people to attend half-day classes without having to travel hours to get to the pharmacy.

Lesson: A crisis forces us to question the way we’ve always done things. The assumption had always been “Classes have to be in person, at the pharmacy.” Turns out, this isn’t true. What other assumptions can we challenge and in doing so find ways to better serve more customers?