New research that examines customer satisfaction with pharmacy operators contains some revealing insights. The studies, conducted separately by J.D. Power and Market Force Information, identify favorites among consumers and point to broader industrywide trends.


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Inside This Issue - Opinion

Studies dissect pharmacy customer satisfaction

October 14th, 2013

New research that examines customer satisfaction with pharmacy operators contains some revealing insights. The studies, conducted separately by J.D. Power and Market Force Information, identify favorites among consumers and point to broader industrywide trends.

Based on a survey of 13,500 customers, J.D. Power’s report contains good news for traditional community pharmacies: The competitive threat posed by mail-order providers has, at least for now, abated.

Although mail-order pharmacies increased their satisfaction score to an average of 797 this year, from 792 in 2012, brick-and-mortar retailers remain the preferred venue for consumers who need to have a prescription filled, building their lead over mail-order providers by raising their rating 23 points to 837.

Retail pharmacies have succeeded in overtaking their counterparts in the mail-order sector, which held the top spot in customer satisfaction as recently as three years ago when they had a two-point lead overall, by countering their perceived price advantage. In 2011 mail-order pharmacies held a seven-point edge by that measure; this year they trailed traditional stores by 20 points — a remarkable turnaround.

Within the brick-and-mortar sector, Good Neighbor Pharmacy, the network of independents supported by pharmaceutical wholesaler AmerisourceBergen, earned the highest score of 885. Publix was No. 1 among food/drug combination store operators at 864, and Target led the discount channel at 864.

The study raises a red flag for the nation’s chain drug store operators. Not only did networks of independent pharmacies — McKesson’s Health Mart and Cardinal Health’s Medicine Shoppe, in addition to Good Neighbor — finish in the top three spots among brick-and-mortar stores, the sector as a whole, with a score of 828, trailed supermarket and discount store pharmacies (835 and 831, respectively). More work needs to be done if drug chains are to make their standing among consumers commensurate with the volume of business that they generate.

The research conducted by Market Force, which involved 3,600 people, reflects that dominance. Drug chains are the primary source of prescription medications for 43% of respondents, easily outdistancing the 19% registered by discounters and the 14% by supermarkets. Mail-order pharmacies, including those operated by drug chains, accounted for just 4%.

The ratings of individual companies were fairly consistent with those in the J.D. Power study. Publix ranked No. 1 overall, followed by Target and Rite Aid. (Good Neighbor, Health Mart and Medicine Shoppe were not included by Market Force, the final round of whose analysis focused on the 10 most frequently shopped pharmacies.)

Both Market Force and J.D. Power based their ratings on tried-and-true measures of a pharmacy operator’s effectiveness, including the quality of the staff, pricing and store ambiance. All of them are essential to the pharmacy experience and will remain so. Going forward, however, research intended to distinguish between community pharmacies will have to take into account a much broader range of criteria.

The scope of the profession is expanding, with a wide range of health care services once available only at a physician’s office or hospital migrating to the neighborhood pharmacy. The availability of flu shots and other immunizations is now the industry standard, and routine diagnostic testing for such conditions as diabetes and hypertension is increasingly common. One notable example is Walgreen Co,’s recent agreement with Theranos Inc., which will make the latter’s innovative lab testing service, which is billed less invasive and more affordable than other alternatives, available at stores across the country.

In addition to the growing roster of services, consumers find that advanced technology, use of technicians and other work-flow innovations have enabled pharmacists to devote an increasing amount of their time to patient counseling and interacting with other health care providers to improve health outcomes. Future studies of the industry will have to take into account such factors as pharmacist engagement and medication therapy management.

Together, the J.D. Power and Market Force reports provide an informative look at retail pharmacy today, which can serve as a benchmark for gauging the ongoing evolution of the profession in a rapidly changing health care system.

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