Partnering with Hospitals
A Florida community pharmacist talks about his successful retail outpatient pharmacy and how to follow a similar model from the outside.
Community pharmacy owners looking for new customers might consider partnering with local hospitals. Due to healthcare reform, a window of opportunity may exist, especially with facilities that lack their own retail outpatient pharmacy or pharmacy network.
What’s going on? Hospitals face increasing pressure to reduce readmissions — often caused by poor post-discharge medication adherence. While many larger facilities have established their own retail outpatient pharmacy to improve those post-discharge transitions, a few are contracting with pharmacies in their communities to run on-site retail operations for them. Still others are working with established pharmacies in their communities to create outpatient referral networks in lieu of having an on-site facility. Small community hospitals (particularly in rural areas) are more likely to be receptive to partnering with pharmacies in this way.
How a Business Partnership Could Work
Independent pharmacies can develop relationships with key hospital personnel — such as discharge planners, nursing and emergency room directors, and social services staff — who then recommend that pharmacy to discharged patients.
Those discharged patients will bring their prescriptions to the pharmacy, whether it is located on-site or off-site. Alternatively, the hospital can call in the prescription (and the pharmacy can pick up the hard copy when it delivers the medication or when the patient comes in to pick it up).
Providing exceptional service and offering delivery services helps the pharmacy retain customers for refills and new orders.
How It Works for Flagler Community Pharmacy
Joe Burghardt certainly made the most of a partnership opportunity when he purchased Flagler Community Pharmacy in 2001. Flagler actually is one of the rare breeds: an independent retail pharmacy located inside a hospital. Burghardt and his partner, Danny Tanton, lease the space from Flagler Hospital, a 335-bed facility in St. Augustine, Florida.
Burghardt says that running a retail outpatient pharmacy is not that different from operating a traditional community pharmacy. However, there are a few unique attributes:
- A smaller front-end operation. “We carry a relatively small amount of over-the-counter [items] to complement our services, but our main focus is prescriptions,” says Burghardt.
- More clinical work. Flagler’s pharmacists do a tremendous amount of clinical work with hospital physicians — making suggestions for therapy changes and alternatives, particularly in non-formulary situations. “While it’s not reimbursable work, it builds loyalty and rapport,” says Burghardt.
- Limited access to the hospital database. Burghardt’s contract with the hospital gives him access to patients’ insurance and demographic information. That enables the pharmacy to provide customers with more efficient service.
How It Can Work for You
Again, partnering with a hospital doesn’t require a community pharmacy to have a physical presence inside the hospital the way that Flagler Community Pharmacy does. “If you are close by and can facilitate a way to get prescriptions to patients, that’s all that counts,” says Burghardt.
“You have to make a point of interacting with everyone who is directly involved with patient activity. Our biggest ally in the ER is the unit secretary.”
— Joe Burghardt
Pharmacy owners who want to pursue partnership opportunities — whether inside or outside the facility — should keep these points in mind:
- Identify a suitable partner. Burghardt says that the largest potential exists with small community and/or rural hospitals. That’s because larger hospitals associated with integrated health systems probably already have outpatient pharmacy networks. Note: Another opportunity, although with less potential, exists with patients who live too far away from a hospital to use its pharmacy network.
- Make initial contact. The first step is to talk directly with any hospital pharmacists and/or the director of pharmacy. Speak with them on a peer-to-peer basis to identify the hospital’s current needs.
- Reach out to key referral sources. After meeting top pharmacy staff and hospital executives, ask for introductions to important personnel such as the director of nursing, the emergency room director, social services staff and discharge planners. Reach out to as many people as possible to inform them of the services you can provide, and don’t discount line personnel.
- Build relationships. Communicate to your referral network that you provide personalized services that can help them solve their problems. “For instance, we made a promise not to turn away any difficult cases,” says Burghardt. That meant making a commitment to carry drugs that might be difficult or expensive to inventory such as anti-clotting medications.
- Retain customers. Pursuing a business partnership with a hospital will be considerably more successful if you can hang on to customers for repeat business. “Ninety percent of our existing customer base came to us through discharge,” says Burghardt. “We transfer out very few prescriptions.”
“McKesson’s ability to provide next-day service means we don’t have to carry a large amount of [expensive drugs] on our shelves. We only have to have enough to get patients through to the next day … and then offer delivery service to their homes.”
— Joe Burghardt
Partnering with a hospital is a great way to increase customer traffic, but it is the ability to offer high-touch services that will keep patients coming back. Fortunately, community pharmacies excel at providing just that kind of excellent customer care.
Joe Burghardt shared additional insight about partnering with hospitals at McKesson ideaShare 2012. Click here to watch the video interview.