NEW YORK — Community pharmacies can congratulate themselves on sustaining a high level of customer satisfaction with pharmacists and pharmacy staff, according to the Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmacy Satisfaction Pulse Survey.
Looking ahead, though, the challenge for the industry will be to maintain and improve that performance when millions of Americans will gain health coverage next year under the Affordable Care Act.
Customer Satisfaction with Pharmacists & Pharmacy Staff
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The most recent iteration of the Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmacy Satisfaction Pulse survey, conducted last fall using a sample of 34,401 adult pharmacy customers, shows that the performance of pharmacists and other pharmacy staff continues to be an important part of the overall pharmacy experience, receiving a mean importance rating of 3.6 on a scale of 4.0, with 4.0 representing very important. That figure has been unchanged for three consecutive years.
The percentage of respondents who described themselves as somewhat (22%) or very (67%) satisfied with their pharmacists and pharmacy staff grew by a percentage point since last year.
While all pharmacy channels but mail order/online received very high ratings, there was considerable variation from one channel to another. Repeating a pattern seen throughout the Pharmacy Satisfaction Pulse survey results, independent drug stores enjoyed the highest ratings, with 83% of survey participants who rely primarily on an independent pharmacy declaring themselves very satisfied. With another 11% somewhat satisfied, the independents garnered an overall satisfaction score of 94%.
Supermarket pharmacies followed with an overall satisfactory rating of 92%, with clinics taking third place with 91%. Mass merchants managed an 89% score, followed by drug chains with 88%, which represented an improvement of one percentage point over last year.
Once again, chain drug trailed every channel but mail order/online, where contact with pharmacists or pharmacy staff is minimal. There are, of course, a number of reasons for that, perhaps the most important being the sheer volume of prescriptions dispensed on a daily basis at many chain drug pharmacies.
Another factor behind chain drug’s comparative satisfaction scores may be suggested by another metric tracked by the Pharmacy Satisfaction Pulse survey: the average wait time to speak with a pharmacist. As the chart on this page shows, chain drug patients had a slightly longer wait on average (5.1 minutes) than any other channel except clinics. However, it should be noted that very little time — approximately one minute — separates the shortest average wait time, 4 minutes for supermarket pharmacies, from chain drug stores.
Wait Time to Speak with Pharmacist
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To be sure, the major drug chains have all invested in means to improve the pharmacy customer experience, including systems and robotics to make dispensing more efficient; new layouts and fixturing to create space for counseling patients; or redesigning work loads to allow pharmacists to spend more time in face-to-face interaction with patients. Those investments and preparations are of particular importance as the industry faces the looming changes mandated by the Affordable Care Act.
With an expected influx of new pharmacy patients, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services predicts that prescription drug sales will jump by approximately 9% next year, and much of that increase will go to chain drug stores, which fill about 55% of all scripts written in this country.
In addition, the current shortage of primary care physicians will become more acute as more insured patients enter the system next year. As a result, industry experts predict that many routine diagnostic and chronic disease state management activities will move from the doctor’s office to the pharmacy.
Pharmacists are already playing an expanded role of increasing importance in this environment. In addition to face-to-face counseling, pharmacists perform a vital function in contacting patients who fail to refill prescriptions, checking for potential interactions between different medications, and discussing medication regimens with patients’ physicians.
Studies have demonstrated that many patients do not comply with their prescribed regimens, with only 25% to 30% of medications taken as prescribed, and only 15% to 20% refilled as prescribed. Figures like that have prompted the retail pharmacy industry to advocate medication therapy management, and many drug chains have developed programs to enable patients and pharmacists to interact more easily and effectively in an effort to improve health outcomes.
For instance, CVS Caremark Corp. developed its Pharmacy Advisor Program, which attempts to improve medication adherence by engaging patients with chronic conditions and allowing them to use their preferred means of communication, whether face-to-face at the pharmacy or by telephone. The program was launched for diabetes in early 2011 and has been extended to chronic cardiovascular disease since. According to CVS, a report published in Health Affairs found that the program for diabetes increased adherence rates and physician initiation of prescriptions and resulted in savings for health plans as well.
For its part, Walgreen Co. has launched an online service, Find Your Pharmacist, that enables patients to search a database of its more than 20,000 pharmacists by such variables as language, location and expertise and select their pharmacist accordingly. The program grew out of a patient survey Walgreens conducted that showed 70% of respondents would change their pharmacy to access a pharmacist trained in their health conditions.
These kinds of programs show retail pharmacy’s commitment to take on a larger role in a dramatically changing health care landscape.