PALM BEACH, Fla. — If George W. Bush, who offered insights about his years as president to a standing-room-only crowd during the final business session at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Annual Meeting here last month, can rightly be called the event’s headliner, the substantive remarks about the business at hand, community pharmacy, were provided by the leaders of NACDS.
Walgreen Co. president and chief executive officer Greg Wasson, who succeeded H-E-B chief administrative officer Bob Loeffler as NACDS chairman, spoke about what the industry must do to realize its full potential.
Caught in a matrix where opposing forces are vying to determine its future, retail pharmacy needs to harness the energy generated by the conflict to lock in the transformation of a profession whose primary focus was formerly on dispensing medications into one where, in Wasson’s words, “our product is an outcome — an improved health outcome — that only a face-to-face encounter with a community pharmacist can accomplish.”
Some would push retail pharmacy toward becoming a commodity business, according to Wasson, referring to, but not naming, pharmacy benefits management companies.
“They’ve said — and believe — that the 56,000 community pharmacies in this country are mere dots on a map, that any pharmacist can count to 30 and robots are much more efficient than community pharmacists,” he said. “In essence, they’ve reduced the value of the patient-pharmacist relationship to the mere tactical part of the job — dispensing the pill. We know better, as many of us in this room have been there.”
Wasson asserted that the threat should motivate the industry to “leverage the true value of community pharmacy and not allow ourselves to become commoditized.”
At the same time, another powerful force “is pulling our industry to step up — that’s our nation’s need for new, innovative solutions to solve our health care crisis,” Wasson noted. “The good news is the country wants our industry to go where we all are striving to go.”
All that adds up to a fluid situation where the roles of health care providers are being redefined.
“This push-pull is creating an enormous opportunity for this industry to step up and play a much, much greater role to be what the country needs, providing affordable and accessible health care services and using the pharmacy profession to its fullest capacity,” said Wasson. “It’s the right thing to do, and it’s the right time to do it. It’s about the success and long-term sustainability of our profession and industry.”
NACDS president and chief executive officer Steve Anderson focused on the dynamics of positive change and the efforts by retail pharmacy to bring it about. Using Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen’s theory of how new technology and business strategies can make products and services less complex, cheaper and more accessible to a broader range of consumers, Anderson zeroed in on the difference that NACDS members are making today.
“Disruptive innovation [Christensen’s theory] reminds me of the power of community pharmacy services to improve health and reduce costs,” said Anderson. “Community pharmacy — in the areas of medication counseling, health education, screenings, vaccinations and disease state management — can add tremendous value to a health care system that needs solutions that are cost effective, high quality and patient-centric.
“I know of no other industry that invests such uncommon energy in thinking about its history and future, and in innovating and executing to make a bright future a reality. To know community pharmacy is to understand that patient-care heroics play out every day in neighborhoods across our land. With the diversity of chain and supplier membership at NACDS, this passion extends to addressing the needs and desires of the entire person — throughout the entire store — as a patient and as a customer.”
While Wasson and Anderson concentrated on where the industry is headed and how it will get there, Loeffler exhorted attendees at the Annual Meeting to remain engaged with the issues of the day that affect retailer pharmacy — which, in addition to rules governing the PBM business, include Medicaid reimbursements, health care reform and medication therapy management policy.
“Charles Butt, the founder of H-E-B, taught me that most of the times he got into trouble and thought he didn’t make the right decision, was because he ‘didn’t go’ — that is, he didn’t go where the problem was,” Loeffler commented. “If there was a store a couple hundred miles away that needed some help, he said it was best to go out there and see what was going on firsthand — rather than just using the facts readily at hand to make the decision.
“Whether you call what is going on in Washington, D.C., a problem or an opportunity, Charles Butt’s advice applies. There is no substitute for going and meeting with legislators face to face.”
Loeffler cited NACDS’ annual RxImpact Day, which in March of this year brought pharmacy advocates from 41 drug chains to the nation’s capital for more than 350 meetings with senators, representatives and congressional staff members, as well as visits by legislators to pharmacies as examples of effective action.
“Pharmacy visits can help educate them about why our pharmacies need adequate compensation in order to survive, and to demonstrate why medication therapy management is such a life-saving practice for patients and such a money-saving tool for the government.”
Loeffler concluded by reminding his audience that difficult tasks lie ahead.
“Your association has adapted, refined and improved to confront ever steeper challenges, and to pursue ever more grand opportunities,” he said in summarizing his one-year term as chairman. “Yet, despite our progress, I keep coming back to what I consider my biggest takeaway from seeing NACDS from the chairman’s seat, and that is the realization that the work of NACDS will never be done. For every feat we accomplish another will call our name.”