The early 2000s saw the emergence of a war between pharmacy chains. For the better part of 10 years, companies like CVS and Walgreens were opening locations as quickly as they could obtain land and build buildings. That was then. This is now. As neighborhood pharmacies falter, primary care could be the only way they survive in the future.
Pharmacies are, at their heart, retail enterprises. They sell prescription and over-the-counter drugs at retail prices. They also sell health and beauty aids, household products, books and magazines, etc. Yet nothing they sell cannot be obtained online. Not even prescription medications.
Canada Drugs Direct is just one example of an online pharmacy capable of selling prescription medications to American consumers. There are bugs that still need to be worked out, but it is only a matter of time before buying prescriptions online becomes the norm. What happens to neighborhood pharmacies then?
NPs and Pharmacy Based Care
A key to the future of the neighborhood pharmacy might be the nurse practitioner (NP). Prior to the onset of coronavirus, a few states were looking at the possibility of loosening restrictions on NPs to allow them to provide primary care without physician supervision. Coronavirus only served to encourage more states to get on board.
It all adds up to a more friendly environment for NPs. In many states, they are beginning to open their own primary care practices. And in the most forward-thinking states, neighborhood pharmacies are starting to set up onsite clinics staffed by NPs and physician assistants (PAs).
Primary care seems to be right in the neighborhood pharmacy’s wheelhouse. Combine an NP with a licensed pharmacist in a single location and you give patients a reason to visit. Perhaps pharmacies could even lower their drug prices with the knowledge that they will make up for some of the loss with revenues from primary care.
A Neighborhood Vaccination Center
Something else to consider is the potential for the neighborhood pharmacy to become the local vaccination center. Brick-and-mortar pharmacies have been offering flu vaccinations for some time now. Yet with coronavirus the major concern, there is talk of making neighborhood pharmacies the epicenter of distribution.
Three independent pharmacies in Alabama prove it can be done. They were chosen as a testing ground for discovering whether or not independently owned pharmacies could be effective partners in distributing the coronavirus vaccine. So far, they have combined to distribute more than 2,000 doses of the vaccine.
Vaccinations could prove to be another revenue producer for local pharmacies. Once again, imagine the potential of combining vaccinations with primary care. A little creative thinking could facilitate the creation of an all-in-one clinic where most of a patient’s routine care can be accessed.
How would this be different from the traditional primary care model? For one, the sheer volume of neighborhood pharmacies offers opportunities for more primary care clinics within a combined footprint. Furthermore, such clinics providing primary care exclusively would limit daily patient loads.
Supplementing the GP’s Office
Neighborhood pharmacies offering primary care would not eliminate the need for traditional GPs. Rather, they would supplement what the GP’s office already does for patients. Neighborhood pharmacies could alleviate much of the stress placed on GPs by allowing them to concentrate on things other than primary care.
America’s pharmacies have faltered in recent years. But there is a silver lining here: there are enough neighborhood pharmacies that using them to provide primary care would be a fairly straightforward enterprise. Doing so could very well be the future of the neighborhood pharmacy model.