The year-old Ritzman Pharmacy of the Future has won plaudits from consumers, the industry and academia while performing ahead of plan.
Hailed as an answer to the commoditization of pharmacy, the location in Rootstown, Ohio, has been embraced by patients and members of the broader public who have met pharmacist Hannah Cross at community outreach events. Cross is “living the brand,” says Ritzman chief operating officer George Glatcz. “We’ve heard nothing but phenomenal things about her and her services both inside and outside the pharmacy.”
Customers appreciate the accessibility of Cross, who is stationed at a counter versus taking phone calls amidst medication shelves. With those shelves walled off — putting the counting and bagging of scripts out of view — Cross engages with patients as the medication expert she went to school to become, says Glatcz. A “tech bar” on one side of the counter, integrating technology into health care, reinforces her enhanced status.
With a look that is more like a retail boutique than a chain drug outlet, the location is such a departure from conventional prescription counters that Ritzman chief executive officer Eric Graf calls it a “practice” instead of a store.
“We’re trying to elevate customers’ expectations for a pharmacy interaction,” Graf says.
The Pharmacy of the Future, notes Glatcz, was highlighted at the last two National Association of Chain Drug Stores Regional Conferences — last year by Ritzman and this year by Kantar — as a model for the pharmacy business.
Academic institutions have been similarly impressed. Several students from the pharmacy school at Northeast Ohio Medical University (NEOMED) — where the Rootstown practice is based — have had overwhelmingly positive rotations at the site. The favorable reviews have spread to other schools.
At Ritzman, executives have been pleasantly surprised that the practice’s results are a year ahead of “some fairly aggressive projections,” Glatcz says.
A big boost for the business has been its implementation of a Meds to Beds transition-of-care program with Summa (Ohio) Rehab Hospital, 20 miles away. Under the program, patients get medications at discharge from Ritzman, and they can receive follow-up services from the pharmacy once they’re home. Pharmacy students have been especially keen on the transition-of-care training, notes Glatcz. “This was a great collaboration between NEOMED, Summa and ourselves,” he says.
Also key to the Pharmacy of the Future’s success has been strong front-end sales. A “concierge” greets customers at the entrance to the 4,200-square-foot pharmacy and explains the specially curated nonprescription offerings, centered on dietary supplements and homeopathic remedies. Sales of those products — which are grouped into “Remedies,” “Restores” and “Revives” programs — have beat expectations, putting the location at the top of Ritzman’s 20 stores in front-end sales.
“The model is working the way it was intended, with the pharmacist being out front engaging in consultations and driving sales,” Glatcz says. “She’s using the full scope of practice to propel the business. It’s going very well for a start-up pharmacy. It’s outpacing every other cold start we’ve had — by far.”
And the same uptick is taking place at Ritzman’s practice in Barberton, Ohio, which has just been remodeled to feature many of the same elements as the Rootstown practice.
The retailer expects a further boost to the front end from its launch of The RefreshinQ Co., a wellness technology company focused on simplifying wellness decision making under the Revives category. The products include supplements, patches and the RefreshinQ Quotient (RQ) blood test assessing 12 biomarkers of energy, strength, endurance and metabolism (the client is then paired with an RQ coach to analyze the results).
The test is powered by InsideTracker, a company run by MIT and Harvard scientists. An InsideTracker algorithm provides a diet and supplement plan based on the blood test results.
Glatcz says a key to the appeal of the test will be prepackaged, pharmacist-curated supplements. The unit-of-use packaging — precluding the need for having five or six bottles of supplements — will sharply boost compliance, he says.
Ritzman also is winning over customers with its IN:Q Paks, boxes of medications combined in single-dose pouches for better adherence. Each pouch is filled with precounted and compliant doses, so patients don’t have to worry about taking medicines incorrectly or running out. IN:Q Paks include 28 days of prepackaged medications and come complete with automatic refills. Patients can pick them up in stores or have them delivered free. Almost 7,700 patients had In:Q Paks in February, up from 4,237 a year earlier.
Another boon to patients, Glatcz notes, will be the chain’s planned central-fill site. Centralizing dispensing will remove 30% of refills from the practices, freeing up pharmacists for more patient counseling.