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Gourlay: ‘Pharmacy is beautifully positioned’

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NACDS chairman gives outlook at Regional Chain Conference

Alex Gourlay_2018 NACDS Regional Chain Conference

Walgreens Boots Alliance’s Alex Gourlay: “We start, as pharmacy, with a natural advantage, being really close to where people live.”

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Pharmacy retailers and suppliers have a world of possibilities in front of them amid an evolving retail health care landscape, industry executives said at the 2018 NACDS Regional Chain Conference.

The conference gathered regional drug and supermarket chains (four to 250 locations) with supplier partners that help meet their customers’ health and wellness needs throughout the store. In addition, the business and idea exchange event provided a venue to mark the 85th anniversary of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores.

The association noted that the theme of the 2018 NACDS Regional Chain Conference, “Igniting Possibilities,” harkened back to the same focus that led to the organization’s launch in 1933: the future.

“As our environment evolves, we must evolve with it. We must embrace the opportunity to make a positive impact in the lives of others through health care,” conference chairman Dan Ferrara, vice president of pharmacy operations at Wegmans Food Markets Inc., said at the opening general session.

Dan Ferrara_Wegmans

Dan Ferrara of Wegmans

NACDS chairman Alex Gourlay, co-chief operating officer of Walgreens Boots Alliance, gave an update on a survey and report of chain members’ community engagement and corporate social responsibility initiatives, a project that he first described at the 2017 NACDS Annual Meeting.

“Pharmacy is beautifully positioned, as it always has been, to take care of changing shifts in the customer and in the marketplace,” Gourlay told attendees. “We start, as pharmacy, with a natural advantage, being really close to where people live, where they work and where they spend time in their communities.”

He underscored the significance of telling — and improving — the story of retail pharmacy.

“I have been in the industry for 40 years, 36 years as a pharmacist,” Gourlay said. “I understand through personal experience, and I have a huge passion for what pharmacies and pharmacists can bring and continuing to build trust is a key part of our future.”

As an example of NACDS’ engagement on pharmacy and front-end issues, Gourlay cited work of the NACDS Retail Advisory Board to help identify successful elements of collaboration between chains and suppliers of all sizes. The project, referred to as a critical issues quadrant analysis, is available in the membership resources section of NACDS.org.

While health care is top of mind with consumers, it’s also important for chains to keep a sharp front-end focus, according to Gourlay.

“I will always speak from a pharmacy point of view, because I believe pharmacy is what gives all of us the unique purpose and differentiation in the marketplace,” he said. “At the same time, all of the products, services and solutions that come from retail product manufacturers are mission-critical.”

Gourlay, too, noted NACDS’ efforts on issues such as direct and indirect (DIR) remuneration fees, pharmacy reimbursement and the opioid abuse epidemic.

Steve Anderson, president and chief executive officer of NACDS, described the association’s focus on these issues in the context of its member-centric approach and its 85 years of existence.

Steve Anderson_2018 NACDS Regional Chain Conference

NACDS’ Steve Anderson

“It is the membership that keeps NACDS spry. It is the membership that keeps NACDS vibrant, cutting-edge and completely focused on the needs of this industry – just as it was on day one back in 1933,” Anderson said.

“An anniversary is a great time to look at NACDS through the eyes of those who created it. A National Association of Chain Drug Stores did not exist, and they decided it needed to,” he noted. “If they were operating pharmacies today, I can imagine the founders of NACDS sitting in this room joining in our talks about modern-day policy, about the need to have access to the patient, about prescription drug reimbursement challenges, about being blindsided by a DIR fee.”

Regarding the DIR fees issue, Anderson stressed the need to get back to “Economics 101” and establish “some basic levels of predictability and stability” for businesses and markets.

“Here is an assumption that is right on. It is not sustainable for a pharmacy to be paid for prescription services, only to find out later that it must give back some of that payment,” he explained. “Addressing that in a meaningful, workable and effective way remains our goal, and NACDS has worked with our allies on a consistent basis on this issue.”

Anderson emphasized the importance of working together through NACDS on both pharmacy and front-end matters. “Whatever the issue, NACDS is totally committed to bringing about workable and successful solutions. That only can be achieved by true collaboration,” he said.

Other topics of discussion at the Regional Chain Conference included business-building strategies, health care quality, pharmacy patient care, community engagement, omnichannel strategies, pharmaceutical trends, workplace policy, and marketing to Millennials and Centennials. The conference also held One-to-One Business Conferences, a popular feature of the event designed to foster collaboration between NACDS chain and associate members.




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