The Community Pharmacist: Real Stories
August 11th, 2020
The community pharmacist plays an essential role in the healthcare ecosystem. Read about the journey of one pharmacist and her quest to help patients.
The community pharmacist has been an integral part of the healthcare system for decades. However, they are disappearing because, like any small business, it is hard to compete. Additionally, there are many areas of “red tape” that impact an independent pharmacy’s operations.
At InfoWerks, we are passionate about supporting independent pharmacies and proudly share a story from a pharmacist, Dr. Opeyemi Adeweso, about her experience.
Opeyemi earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy from her native country, Nigeria. In 2002, she came to the U.S. and became licensed as a pharmacist after meeting all requirements. To be competitive, she attended Howard University, earning a doctorate in pharmacy in 2018.
Early in her career, while working long shifts for one of the large pharmacy chains, she decided she wanted a better work-life balance, as her growing family needed her attention. Her positive experience with independent pharmacies in her home country, the potential flexibility with her hours, and the opportunity to serve her community made it easy to start Severance Pharmacy in 2012.
Initially, a building with several medical offices was the site for the new pharmacy. The intention was to network and liaise with physicians, meeting their needs, and serving patients with the convenience of an on-site pharmacy. The pharmacy offered a variety of services, including home delivery, Medication Therapy Management (MTM), and one-on-one consulting.
However, as attempts were made to network with physicians to increase customer patronage, she found many providers with offices in the building were actually non-existent. This led to a situation that no business wants to be in, one in which the returns did not justify the high overhead costs.
Other challenges, such as mechanical issues with her medication packaging equipment, were additional concerns, but Opeyemi cites insurance reimbursements and copay issues as the key reasons for lack of profitability. According to her, “With non-preferred pharmacies, the patient’s copay can be much higher. So often, patients can’t pay that extra amount since many are on a fixed income. Plus, the reimbursements from insurance companies are just too low for one to make a decent profit.”
The Reality of Surviving as an Independent
To improve cash flow and reduce overhead, she decided to move her location based on a Howard colleague’s advice. She said, “He told me to consider working with a small grocery store. We’d only be paying the rent for the space, so the overhead was much less.”
In 2017, the pharmacy moved into a local grocery store. The move helped reduce overhead costs but still presented some unique challenges with getting the best suppliers and pricing mechanisms to ensure profitability and competitiveness.
Competition is fierce in metro areas, where chains and community pharmacies have a tight market. In addition, pharmacist-owners must deal with Direct and Indirect Remuneration (DIR) fees and other hidden fees that affect a pharmacy’s profitability. These challenges contributed to making the difficult decision to close the doors to Severance Pharmacy in August of 2019, after seven years in business.
Expectedly, many of her customers were unhappy because of the abrupt closure. She had relationships with them—a beautiful aspect of running an independent pharmacy. For Opeyemi, though, the closure was not a story of failure but of knowledge gained through many years of hard work. The years that taught her about the reality of surviving as an independent pharmacy owner.
Independent Pharmacists Are Business Owners and Valued Members of the Healthcare Ecosystem
Pharmacists, who are also business owners, wear multiple hats. In addition to their clinical duties, they are also responsible for business operations, logistics, sales, marketing, administration, and valid licensure maintenance.
It suggests that pharmacists should participate in classes on how to run a business while in school. There is support for the community pharmacist on topics like these, through organizations like NCPA. Still, it doesn’t get the exposure it deserves. Frequent exposure to this information, especially early in one’s career, is valuable for the entrepreneurial pharmacist.
Although a vital part of the healthcare ecosystem, pharmacists often do not get the credit they deserve. According to Opeyemi, “Pharmacists are the most underutilized members of the healthcare community, and we should all work to improve that.”
That’s a sentiment, we completely agree with because pharmacists should have a role in the bigger picture. After all, they’ve been on the front lines of COVID and many other public health issues over the years.
The community pharmacy will continue to be a huge part of the evolution of healthcare in this country and beyond. As one of the most trusted and accessible members of the healthcare team, the community pharmacist should be a central part of the ever-evolving healthcare system.