Help Your Pharmacy Customers Breathe Easier
Promote how you can help customers better manage their symptoms during National Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month this May and drive new patients to your store
There’s a significant opportunity for pharmacies to help patients suffering from allergies and asthma. Consider these projections:
- By 2015, the market for allergy drugs in the United States will exceed $14.7 billion.1
- By 2040, pollen counts may be double what they are today because of climate change.2
And, given May is National Allergy and Asthma Awareness Month, it’s a great time for you to use this health observance to raise awareness of how you can help patients breathe easier, while increasing OTC purchases and driving more customers in your door.
(Click here to get our summary of Health Observance Events or download our free Independent Pharmacy Promotional Planning tool that has links and promotional activities centered on national health events and other holidays. See the article “Map Out Your Marketing Plan for the Year Ahead.”)
Help Customers Prepare for Seasonal Allergies
Nasal allergies affect about 50 million people, about 30% of adults and 40% of children.3 Scientists predict that pollen production will start earlier in the future, and since allergists recommend that patients begin treatments two weeks before symptoms start, pharmacies will need to be ready earlier with over-the-counter and prescription medications. In addition to antihistamines, decongestants and nasal sprays, customers also may be shopping for tissues, neti pots and masks.
More than 90% of people treat their cold, flu and allergy symptoms with an OTC product, and nearly 60% of those keep medications on hand instead of waiting to buy when they need them.4 Remind your customers to prepare in advance for allergy season and to check the expiration dates in their medicine cabinets. Use a dedicated end cap with relevant OTC items. Create messaging that you can help patients manage their symptoms (e.g., change your on-hold message, create a poster in your store, have your cashier ask customers if they need any support for allergies). You can also create a local postcard campaign and write a wellness column on managing allergies for your website and local papers.
Taking the Lead in Addressing Asthma
Allergens also can trigger attacks of asthma, which affects about 25 million Americans. For children, asthma is the most common chronic illness, and the asthma rate in African American children rose almost 50% between 2001 and 2009.5 Since 2001, the proportion of people with asthma has increased from 1 in 14 to 1 in 12.6 Nearly 2 million emergency department visits and half a million hospitalizations in 2009 were related to asthma.7
Asthma education and medication therapy management can significantly reduce the healthcare costs related to asthma, and are yet more ways for pharmacists to prove their value to accountable care organizations. (Read “Community Pharmacy’s Role in Accountable Care.”) In one study involving a community-based MTM program, the proportion of asthma patients who visited emergency departments fell from 9.9% to 1.3%, and hospitalizations fell from 4% to less than 2%.8
Pharmacists Make a Difference in Asthmatic Patients
Providing asthma education “pulls the skills of the pharmacist to the forefront,” said Christian S. Tadrus, owner of three Sam’s Health Mart pharmacies in Missouri and a certified asthma educator who promotes his services to his community
Paul Brand, owner of Florence Pharmacy, is another independent pharmacist whose asthma management skills elevate his clinical role in the community. Brand participates in an education program and says that of the asthma recipients who weren’t already his patients, about 80% switch to his pharmacy because of the program.
“It’s very rewarding as a pharmacist, on a personal level, the big difference you can make in a short amount of time with a patient,” Brand said. One of his patients had been dealing with asthma for 20 years and during a counseling session told the pharmacist, “This is the first time anyone has told me this.”
Increase Your Role in Asthma Management
Prove the value of your expertise and reach out to customers with asthma using these steps:
- Become a certified asthma educator. Having this certification raises awareness about your expertise as a pharmacist and opens the minds of physicians with whom you want to work. (Learn more at the web site for the National Asthma Educator Certification Board, http://naecb.com.)
- Find the funding. A grant from the state of Montana and the University of Montana School of Pharmacy funds a free community asthma education clinic in which Brand participates. This grant pays for materials for the patients and the counseling time of the pharmacist, who also is a certified asthma educator. He receives $50 for the first 15 minutes and $25 for each 15 minutes after that. The initial counseling usually takes an hour, and about 10% of patients return for a half-hour follow-up session. Because the program is proving to be effective at reducing hospitalizations, the grant has been extended.
Tadrus said Missouri’s Medicaid system also has an intervention program that pays all pharmacists, not just certified asthma educators, nearly $60 per hour for asthma education and interventions. “Medicaid identifies eligible patients and notifies the pharmacies of the opportunity through the billing system messages, or pharmacists can log onto a web portal to see the opportunities to engage,” he explained.
Payers are beginning to recognize that asthma education is worth funding, because when patients’ conditions are well controlled, it can cut their costs dramatically.
- Reach out to the community. Tadrus conducts screenings at school health fairs and educates teachers about asthma. Brand offers in-service training for physicians and holds an asthma education class for patients about every six months, which usually brings in 20–30 people with asthma. According to Brand, physicians love the training. “I think in some ways it makes them realize how little they know about asthma education,” added Brand. At one medical office he discovered that the doctors were having patients sit instead of stand when using the peak flow meter.
- Mine your data. Tadrus runs a report each Monday morning that helps him identify patients whose asthma is probably not well controlled, because they received a prescription over the weekend from an emergency room doctor for asthma-related prescriptions. Many pharmacy software programs will allow you to search a class of drugs or prescriptions from a certain doctor. “You just have to decide to look for it,” Tadrus said.
- Break the ice. When Tadrus identifies a customer whose prescriptions may indicate a problem managing asthma, he’ll call, introduce himself, and check on the patient. If people are comfortable talking, he’ll engage them in a conversation about better managing their condition. “It’s not a sales call,” he said. “It never is and never should be.” If they are interested in learning more, he’ll set up an appointment.
- Help patients manage triggers. During counseling, take a global approach, helping patients understand their triggers, environmental effects, why they are using medications and devices, and how to use them properly. The Montana program provides an asthma diary so patients can identify triggers, and an asthma action plan that is personalized for each patient.
- Follow up. Create a form to send to the patient’s physician to document what you’ve discussed with the patient and ask for any specific interventions that the patient may be interested in, such as smoking cessation. If patients come back for a follow-up counseling session, you can assess whether they have learned to use their peak flow meters and inhalers correctly or need further direction.
Share tips that you have used to market allergy and asthma programs. And, to discover more ways to become a partner to customers who want to improve their health, read “Becoming a ‘Whole Health’ Center.”