Many brick-and-mortar pharmacies are facing increased competition as mail-order pharmacies through health plans become more popular. Mail-order pharmacies deliver prescription medications to patients in 30- to 90-day fills and may appeal to patients who are looking to save money and avoid a trip to the drugstore. But this is not the full story. Your patients may not realize the implications of switching to a mail-order pharmacy. As a trusted pharmacist in the community, you have the power to help patients make informed decisions. Here are a few things to keep in mind when addressing patients’ questions about mail-order pharmacies.
As earlier noted, one of the perks of mail-order pharmacies is getting a month to three months’ worth of medication at once. However, a 90-day supply of medications can take about two weeks to be delivered. This means that mail-order may not be the best option for patients with acute conditions, those who need their prescriptions immediately, or people who only require a few doses of a medication, such as post-surgery medications or antibiotics for infections. Patients who don’t have automatic refills will have to set up orders online or over the phone at least two weeks in advance to avoid delays.
2. Customer Service:
At a community pharmacy, patients get to know their pharmacy staff who serve as an important point of contact and trusted resource. While mail-order pharmacies place pharmacists on staff to answer patients’ questions, they do not offer the same personalized services or face-to-face relationships with a pharmacist that a walk-in pharmacy provides. If your patients prefer to interact with someone who knows their medical history and with whom they have a personal relationship, the choice is clear.
3. Cost Benefit:
When your patients receive marketing materials encouraging them to switch to mail-order preferred plans, they may not realize that they aren’t always required to make the change. They may also be under the impression that switching is always the cheaper option, which is not the case. Patients who move to a mail-order preferred pharmacy will only see cheaper copays during Initial Coverage on Tier 1 and Tier 2 drugs. The cost difference, in reality, is not as significant as they expect. Patients will have to decide if the benefits of making the change outweigh the benefits of having an accessible and knowledgeable local pharmacist.
How to Remain Competitive
As a pharmacy with a physical location, you already experience the benefits of having personal connections with patients. Maintaining these close relationships and keeping customers satisfied makes them less likely to switch over to mail-order pharmacies. To remain competitive and meet changing patient expectations, many independent and chain pharmacies offer pharmacy delivery services for prescriptions and other purchases. These services share some of the same benefits as mail-order pharmacies such as increasing access to medications and saving patients time on picking up prescriptions, which helps pharmacies compete with mail-order programs. But they also present some additional benefits.
Pharmacy delivery services also help pharmacies maintain their connection with customers. From a business perspective, a well-executed delivery plan gives you access to more patients, improved adherence as patients are more likely to keep up with medications, and an increased bottom line. With the customer data you collect — such as preferences on delivery times — you’re also able to customize your services to meet their needs and personalize their interactions. Patients only stand to benefit from this as they are receiving the convenient and individualized care they want.