Bulk Up Your Business by Helping Your Customers Trim Down
Fit weight-loss counseling into your pharmacy’s services
Many of your customers will soon make losing weight their New Year’s resolution. Helping them manage their weight and develop healthier lifestyles represents an opportunity for your pharmacy — not only in January, but all year round.
America’s Weight Problem
Obesity is a major health issue and increases the risk of other conditions, including hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. At least 80% of patients with diabetes are obese.3 In a survey asking Americans to rank health issues, 83% said obesity was the most important issue, ahead of cancer.4 And in June 2013, the American Medical Association said obesity is a disease requiring a range of medical interventions.5
Potential Implications for Pharmacies
Politicians and government officials aware of this epidemic are enacting policies to try to combat it. In fact, the Affordable Care Act includes obesity counseling among the essential health benefits that qualified health plans in exchanges must cover.6
The opportunity — and challenge — is for pharmacists to be recognized as providers who can deliver essential preventive and wellness services. If recognized as providers, pharmacists can be reimbursed for services required under ACA, including obesity counseling.7 (Read “Grassroots Efforts Advance the Pharmacy Profession” to learn how you can advocate for change.)
Generating Revenue for Weight Management
Beyond potential reimbursement from insurers, pharmacies can increase revenue by providing products and charging for services that support patients’ weight loss and nutrition goals. (The article “Start Charging for Your Time” describes Wasatch Pharmacy’s success in charging patients for health consultations.)
Below are the specific approaches and the third-party nutrition programs that three independent pharmacies have adopted to build their business and help their patients.
(Please note: This article does not serve as an endorsement of these programs, approaches or products by Smart Retailing Rx or McKesson.)
Ladd Family Pharmacy
2014 will mark the fifth year that Ladd Family Pharmacy has collaborated with a nonprofit diabetes center to offer the Treasure Valley Weight Loss Challenge. Participants register for the Challenge in January — in 2013, 700 people participated. And, in June the three men and women who lost the greatest percentage of weight share $10,000 in prizes. Ladd Family Pharmacy co-owner and business manager Kip Ladd said the pharmacy probably sees a 10% bump in sales during the challenge.
Participants can register and weigh in monthly at the pharmacy, which brings in more customers. When they come in, Challenge participants may transfer prescriptions or buy supplements. The pharmacy also builds its referral base by hosting practitioners, who offer free nutrition and weight management classes.
Challenge participants can also sign up for coaching from the pharmacy. Ladd charges $20 a month. Kip Ladd said the fee ensures that participants show up and are committed. With the coaching service they can access an online database that includes healthy meal options and can exchange messages with pharmacist and co-owner Elaine Ladd. It is part of the Healthy Heart Club program the pharmacy offers through CreativePharmacist.com.
The results patients achieve build loyalty, Elaine Ladd said. “Our customers trust us. They see and feel the results. We have an impact on their lives, which has an impact on their families.” Participants who lose weight also become testimonials for new business. For example, a 2013 Challenge participant was the HR manager at a local company, which has contracted with Ladd to provide wellness programs for its employees.
Terry Forshee, owner of Cherokee Pharmacy — with stores in Cleveland, Tennessee and Dalton, Georgia — noticed that his customers’ most frequent questions were about weight loss. Recognizing that “the profits from filling prescriptions are decreasing,” Forshee observed that pharmacies must “evolve into other areas that make money.”
So, for more than a decade, Cherokee has counseled patients about healthy eating and weight management, using a program from Take Charge Nutrition LLC.8 Cherokee provides weekly weigh-ins, counseling and education. These pharmacies also offer meal replacement shakes. Forshee said his pharmacies “began offering health coaching before coaching became cool.”
Plus, Forshee is gathering data about the effectiveness of pharmacists offering weight-loss counseling with the hope that insurers will see the value and begin paying. In the meantime, he shows customers who are paying out of pocket that they can save money because the cost of meal replacements is less than they would typically spend on food.
Before Paul Hueseman opened Greentree Pharmacy in Kirkwood, Missouri, in 2012, he knew he wanted to address all aspects of a patient’s care. “I’m a big believer that weight loss is an important part of healthcare,” Hueseman said. So he researched the options. Hueseman chose to offer the “Take Shape for Life” weight loss program from Medifast, which combines counseling with special foods.
In addition to sales of supplements, special foods or meal replacements, there are other sources of revenue. Before Hueseman conducts a counseling session, which can take 30–45 minutes, a customer signs an agreement to buy one month of meal replacements or pay $105 for counseling. These agreements introduce the idea of counseling after customers transition off the program’s foods; those counseling sessions allow cross-selling of other products. “It gives me an opportunity to sell supplements that I think will help enhance the weight loss,” he said.
How to Add Weight Loss Counseling in Your Pharmacy
No matter what business model you plan to pursue, to offer weight counseling you need to adapt these ideas to your pharmacy:
- Create a private space. “Patients don’t want to be weighed in public,” Forshee noted, though you can counsel them in a semi-private area.
Hueseman designed his pharmacy with a semi-private counseling area and a classroom. A television in the classroom allows him to show video segments to patients who come in for counseling.
- Carve out time for counseling. Have patients schedule counseling sessions, which typically take 10–15 minutes. “We have more time than we think,” Forshee said, particularly due to innovations such as automated prescription filling. He schedules 60% of his sessions on Tuesdays, a specific day that he devotes to this service.
Hueseman sometimes schedules counseling at 8:30 a.m., before his pharmacy opens at 9 a.m., or schedules it on a day when another pharmacist is working.
Informal conversations are important too. “Take the time and get to know the patients,” Elaine Ladd said. “We ask a lot of questions. Create that dialogue. It’s amazing what you learn.”
- Use staff efficiently. Limit the amount of time a pharmacist is involved by training staff to weigh patients and prepare counseling and education materials. This is similar to the way a nurse will take vitals and pre-screen patients for a physician. Hueseman’s staff help patients place orders for meal replacements and finalize paperwork. Forshee recommends training staff to engage patients about the program. For example, when patients pick up their diabetes medications, your staff member can ask if they are on track with their diet and exercise goals. This can lead to a conversation about nutrition and lifestyle modification. This way, when the employee provides a brochure, it is much more effective than just stuffing the paper in the bag with the medications. At Ladd Family Pharmacy staff members also take supplements they sell, so they can talk about the effects of products including multivitamins, fish oil, and vitamin C with flavonoids.
- Market your expertise. Most of Forshee’s patients come via referrals from physicians or other patients. He’ll sometimes buy lunch for a group practice to talk with doctors and staff about his pharmacy’s weight loss program. Hueseman has done “fax blasts” to physicians’ offices about his pharmacy’s weight loss program. (Learn how to reach out to physicians and staffs in “Increased Prescriber Outreach = Increased Pharmacy Traffic.”) Ladd Family Pharmacy posts information on its Facebook page and sends flyers to doctors’ offices and community centers when it offers free classes on topics such as carb counting, healthy cooking and fun ways to burn belly fat.
As you get ready to kick off 2014, consider how weight management can put your customers on a path to better health, bring traffic to your store and put dollars in your pocket.
Tell us about how your pharmacy provides weight management counseling in the Comments section below.