How to hold onto increasingly finicky Rx customers

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The “retailization” of health care means patients can choose where they fill prescriptions. As such, they are now expecting more and tolerating less from pharmacies.

John Wirthlin

In a double-blind Global Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Vision Study commissioned by Zebra, nearly one-third of patients said they have gone elsewhere for their medications after experiencing a problem with their prescriptions. And over three-quarters of all patients said they have experienced at least one problem with their prescription in the past, with issues ranging from pricing, availability and side effects to real or perceived safety and quality concerns.

Does that mean your pharmacy is at risk of losing even more customers in the future if you fail to deliver what patients need, when they need it?


Then again, you may see more patients transfer to your pharmacy hoping for a better experience. That is why it’s important to understand what may prompt patients to shop around for a new pharmacy or stay loyal to yours.

High expectations, low tolerances

Eighty-five percent of patients say pharmacies need to monitor the quality and integrity of medications they dispense, with over half holding pharmacies most responsible for ensuring medications are kept safe and uncompromised within pharmaceutical supply chains. So, if patients learn a medication they were taking was recalled, fake or counterfeit, or they feel what they received was otherwise damaged or unusable, they may hold the pharmacy accountable — not the manufacturer or distributor. You must show patients you prioritize their health and safety if you want them to choose you.

You must also do everything in your power to keep shelves consistently stocked. Three in 10 patients said they’ve been told the medication they needed was unavailable or that they could only receive a partial fill for their prescription, and 73% of patients are either somewhat or very concerned that medication shortages could prevent them from receiving treatments on time. If they can’t get all their medications at your pharmacy or in a single visit, they may be more inclined to go to a competitor down the street or even a mail-order pharmacy in the near- and long-term. Likewise, if they feel they’re overpaying at your pharmacy, they will probably shop around unless you give them another reason to stay loyal, such as a strong relationship with your pharmacy staff, convenience or consistent medication availability.

How technology can help you build trust and loyalty

It’s not easy keeping medication costs down in today’s market, and you must preserve pharmacy profit margins. However, there are ways to reduce waste, which could help reduce overhead and give you more flexibility in medication pricing models. There are also ways to prove to patients that you can be trusted to put their needs ahead of your business’s needs.

  • Move beyond the barcode. I’ve said this before, but handheld and fixed radio frequency identification (RFID) readers can capture data from thousands of RFID-tagged pharmaceutical items each second, enabling staff to keep better tabs on what’s in stock, what needs replenishment and what’s approaching expiration. RFID can also help with medication authenticity on inbound inventory, as pharmacists will know right away if a package, product or even vial has been switched out since the manufacturer shipped it. If a recall occurs, they’ll know immediately where to find affected inventory so it can be pulled from shelves.
  • Show — don’t just tell — patients that shipped medications haven’t been compromised. Eighty percent of patients believe temperature-sensitive medications or treatments have a higher chance of diminished efficacy with mail-order or online pharmacies as exposure to extreme hot/cold is more likely than with other types of pharmacies. Additionally, 70% of patients feel there is a higher risk of receiving damaged medications or treatments with degraded quality when using mail-order or online pharmacies. Adding visual temperature indicators that are simple for patients to read and understand is just one way you could build trust in the quality and safety of shipped medications. Patients won’t be as apt to call you about a suspected temperature excursion — and request a costly replacement — when they can clearly see that their medication did get too hot during transit.
  • Offer a convenient, personalized experience. Deloitte research has shown that companies focused on the human experience are twice as likely to outperform their peers in revenue growth over a three-year period. So, put systems in place that help pharmacy staff get to know — and treat — patients more holistically, and make it easy for patients to access pharmacists in the first place, especially if you run a mail-order pharmacy and you don’t have the luxury of building relationships via face-to-face ­interactions.

If your pharmacy has a long queue, consider setting up self-service kiosk stations or mobile apps that enable patients to submit orders, consult with off-site pharmacists, or even look up medication information based on personal information retrieved from their electronic health record (EHR). This prevents them from having to stand in line twice or stay on the phone on hold for long periods of time. It also enables them to get immediate expert guidance and empowers them to become educated about — and confident in — the medications they’re taking.

With the right technology in place, it will become easy to provide patients access to well-informed experts who can deliver valuable information in a personalized way that builds trust and loyalty.

To learn more about what patients expect from pharmacies and others in the pharmaceutical industry, click here.

John Wirthlin is the industry principal for manufacturing, transportation and logistics of Zebra Technologies.


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