Fresh Ideas for the Family Business

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An entrepreneurial young pharmacist launches new services to build on the success of her parents’ pharmacy.

It’s time to change customers’ perceptions about what pharmacists and community pharmacies can do. “Too many people still think that all we can do is ‘lick, stick, pour and count,’” explains Leanna Donner, a newly minted pharmacist at her family’s store in Forsyth, Montana.

So Donner has been introducing one new service after another since joining Yellowstone Health Mart® Pharmacy — which her parents, Neil and Sharon, opened almost 30 years ago. She has implemented a highly successful refill program called “Sync Your Meds,” begun offering limited blood-testing services, and started providing immunizations.

Building on Prior Success

Yellowstone already was a successful operation when Donner started working there as a licensed pharmacist in July 2011. The store was averaging 200 to 250 prescriptions per day and had a thriving mail-delivery operation. However, Donner set out to build on her parents’ achievements by introducing new services that expand the boundaries of traditional pharmacy and help address our nation’s growing adherence issue. “I definitely want to see how much of a clinical setting we can take retail pharmacy to,” she explains.

Donner understands that her new ideas may take time to succeed. But she also understands that a good way to determine which services will be most effective is to launch them, learn from the experience, and continue to fine-tune her methods.

Quick Success with “Sync Your Meds”

One of the first new ideas that Donner introduced was a refill synchronization program she calls “Sync Your Meds.” This program involves providing automatic refills for multiple medications on the same day each month.

Donner actually started the program as a student project (she did a rotation at Yellowstone shortly before receiving her license). Sync Your Meds was so successful for the initial group of test patients that Donner decided to provide the option for all customers. She promotes the program by faxing a letter to area providers, advertising on the radio, and including sign-up sheets in the pharmacy.

Convenience and adherence are the obvious benefits for patients. And for the pharmacy, the program provides a measurable efficiency boost. “It cuts the number of phone calls we get, and we always have refills on file,” Donner says. Improved medication adherence is another advantage. “It’s definitely increased our fill rate, and it really improves communication … if [patients] stop a medication or if they are having a side effect, we hear about it.”

Medication synchronization programs, like Simplify My Meds from NCPA, are one of many ways that community pharmacies are helping to address medication adherence issues. To learn more about the impacts of non-adherence and additional ways to help improve adherence, please read “Improving Adherence, Building Relationships.”

Blood Screening: Tweaking the Process

In November 2011, Donner purchased a blood-screening device and began offering a testing service for full lipid profiles and A1C screenings — at $20 for each test or $30 for both. Patients typically pay for the tests out of pocket.

Donner felt that providing these limited and relatively inexpensive tests would not be too much of a competitive threat for the local lab. “It’s one of those things in a small town,” she explains. “We want to compete, but we don’t want to overstep and destroy relationships.”

While Donner remains optimistic, the program has not yet taken off like she had hoped it would. “The [testing] cassettes are expensive and often expire before I can get enough people in here to use them,” she says.

In the entrepreneurial spirit of “test and learn,” she plans to try a new approach in the future. “I want to start holding clinics for local employers — literally going to them and saying ‘Hey, would you like to offer this testing service for your employees?’” Donner says. “My McKesson account manager actually was the one who suggested that change [in approach].”

Donner still believes in offering blood-screening services. “It’s got so much potential,” she says. The idea is that patients can receive screening at an affordable price, and that leads to increased diagnosis and better health. “The hard part is training people to understand that pharmacists can do this.”

Getting Started with Immunizations

In December 2012, Yellowstone began offering vaccines at the store. Donner says that it is important to plan ahead and know which vaccines are available from your wholesaler and when you need to order them. According to Donner, immunizations are an essential part of changing perceptions about pharmacists’ role in healthcare. So she definitely wants to expand Yellowstone’s immunization program at a later date. “We’ll track it for a year and then see about offering pneumonia and Tdap shots as well.”

For more information on vaccines:

Keep Trying New Things

As Donner looks back on her first few years in the pharmacy business, she is clear on one thing: Redefining community pharmacy through new types of clinical services is critical. Giving new ideas time to succeed while making adjustments and course corrections — in what you offer and how you market it — is a natural part of the process. You have to be patient.

The information provided here is for reference use only and does not constitute the rendering of legal, financial, legislative, commercial or other professional advice by McKesson. The results described above depend on a variety of factors that are unique to Yellowstone Health Mart Pharmacy. There is no guarantee that your results will be similar to Yellowstone Health Mart Pharmacy. Each party’s results will depend on the factors of its business. The success in this case study cannot be used as an indication of future success with these programs.