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The role of pharmacy in health care will inevitably expand

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Bob Kwait

In order to get a clear view of the health care issues in the United States, I felt it would be of value to look at my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland is certainly not a huge market, but the history of pharmacy and health care go back more than 60 or 70 years. When it comes to health care, Cleveland has some of the best hospitals in the United States: the world-renowned Cleveland Clinic; University Hospitals with its first-class educational system with Case Western Reserve University; and Metro Health Hospital with Level One Trauma care.

Then you lay upon that the pharmacy retail part of the business with local chains founded by entrepreneurs in the 1920s. Gray Drug, which began as Weinberger Drug Stores; Standard Drug; and Marshall’s Drug, which began in Detroit, founded by the Shapero family. Cleveland was one of the largest, most vital markets for pharmacies in the country in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Now let’s move ahead to 2021. What does the Cleveland market look like today? We have Walmart, CVS pharmacy, Walgreens and Rite Aid. We also have big box stores today, primarily Sam’s Club and Costco, and we have small regional chains that have done an extremely good job, in spite of all the competition. Here in Cleveland, we have Discount Drug Mart and Marc’s.

My hat goes off to all of these retailers in this market who have taken this situation and worked hard to move the process forward and now begin the process of administering COVID vaccines to all the people in the market. The dedication that I see at retail level represents a remarkable passion for health care, and it has awakened many areas of the industry, particularly on the supermarket side, to the importance of pharmacy going forward.

The pharmacy role is one that is not going to go away. If anything, it will expand, primarily in the general health care area and what we used to call the general practitioner doctor area. Areas such as flu, shingles, back pain, arthritis, and flu and COVID vaccines. The role of the pharmacist in many cases has become overburdened, and pharmacy assistance is going to have to expand in order to help the pharmacist out.

To some degree I see that this has happened, but it is an area that needs to be addressed. The pharmacists are interacting with the public like never before. They are going way beyond filling prescriptions. They are caretakers and educators. They have recognized the needs of the consumer. The relationship between pharmacist and consumer requires honest discussions and often includes personal and sensitive information about their shoppers. This link is an example of how the pharmacy at Discount Drug Mart is going beyond for its consumers: https://discount-drugmart.com/360-care-program/.

Many areas within the pharmacy sphere will be covered by specialty services. These are services that have been around for many years but held by small individual pharmacies. That is changing. Examples of that are CVS and its HealthHUB format, Walgreens is also expanding its health care providing services, as well as Rite Aid. And Walmart is opening medical centers attached to its larger stores. The pandemic has created a consumer awareness of better nutrition and staying healthy. And in spite of this, there are issues with weight gain and an uptick of the opioid abuse issues. These issues will also need to be dealt with on the health care and pharmacy level. As the new formats evolve, the pharmacy of the future is still an open question. It is without a doubt that I feel and believe that what’s next is a pharmacy program that will present data and technology that will play a tremendous role in educating the public. Telehealth is going to play a role in that education piece. We’ll see a new kind of store that doesn’t exist now. Online business is going to continue to grow and become more important. Services such as home delivery and at-store pickup are here to stay.

We are learning a lot from this past year, and we will be better prepared for any pandemic going forward. It is remarkable that we were able to come up with the vaccine to hopefully curb the pandemic going forward. The role will also be in over-the-counter and wellness products, and certainly wellness on the food side. The pandemic has created a consumer awareness of nutrition, and it doesn’t mean we don’t have issues with weight, psychological issues and also the real opioid issue, which seems to have gone uncontrolled during this scenario. The other issue to bite us all as we begin to get control over the pandemic issues.

In summary, I would like to say from the bottom of my heart, my hat goes off to the pharmacy industry and how they have dealt with this, the drug chains, food chains, mass and club. The opportunities that this scenario has opened up in health care and wellness are going to explode in terms of need and opportunity in new product development and new areas of opportunity, primarily in health care and beauty.

Bob Kwait is chairman of Kwait & Associates/Bob Kwait Consulting Group. He can be contacted at rjkwait@gmail.com.


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