A recent edition of The New York Times carried a story about the plight of independent pharmacies in America. Appearing under the headline, “For a Drugstore, ‘Nice’ Isn’t a Panacea,” the article does a good job outlining the strengths of independents and the challenges that they currently face. In contrasting such retailers with chain drug stores, it does, however, present only a partial view of the industry.
A considerable amount of space is devoted to patients’ stories about extraordinary service that they have received at an independent pharmacy. One Wynnewood, Pa., resident relates that when her son was suffering from pneumonia during a snowstorm and urgently needed a prescription, Tepper Pharmacy was there.
“Tepper said, ‘We’ll stay open until you can get here,’ ” the woman is quoted as saying. “I walked. The pharmacist was standing at the door waiting for me to lock up. You never forget something like that.”
While that pharmacist deserves to be commended, it should be remembered that many chain pharmacies are open and ready to help patients around the clock every day. The article failed to note that fact.
Also overlooked were the benefits that consumers derive from the broad geographic reach of chains, some of which have stores in every state, giving patients access to prescription refills wherever they happen to be; the growing array of health and wellness programs they offer; and convenient access to broad assortments in categories ranging from beauty aids and personal care to food and beverages and general merchandise.
The main problem with the story is its implicit portrayal of independent and chain pharmacies as being locked in an adversarial relationship. While that viewpoint was common a number of years ago, it has been eclipsed by a spirit of close cooperation.
Both chain and independent pharmacies are in business, first and foremost, to do one thing — help patients live healthy lives. Independents emphasize the personal involvement of the pharmacist, while chains augment that approach with the advantages that come with doing business on a large scale in such areas as purchasing, distribution and logistics, technology, access to capital, and negotiating clout with pharmacy benefits management companies.
Pharmacy operators of all varieties have come to realize that there is more that unites than separates them. They understand that the serious threats to the profession come from forces that would reduce reimbursements rates in the public and private sectors to levels that would have an adverse impact on patient care and endanger their continued financial viability.
The close cooperation between the National Association of Chain Drug Stores and the National Community Pharmacists Association is evidence of the prevailing attitude. The two groups have joined forces to defend pharmacy’s interests, their most notable success coming in the form of an injunction issued by a federal judge that blocks significant cuts in Medicaid payments for prescription drugs from taking effect.
People in the profession understand that, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, they must hang together or they will hang separately.