Building Physician Relationships, Part One
By Tanya Mericle |
Businesses are built on relationships and pharmacies are no exception. Community pharmacies know and value the importance of having good relationships with the patients and families who depend on them for medications and advice.
Just as important as a pharmacy’s relationship with their patients is the pharmacy’s relationship with prescribers. While often overlooked or taken for granted, strong pharmacy-prescriber partnerships benefit everyone. Physicians, like pharmacies and other segments in the healthcare continuum, are seeing their reimbursements linked more and more to patient outcomes. Community pharmacies, with a reputation built on trust and exceptional care, are uniquely positioned to influence patient behaviors, including recognizing and overcoming the barriers that lead to non-adherence. Not only do patients benefit when pharmacies and prescribers work as a cohesive team, but the providers benefit by having a reliable partner on the pharmacy side working toward the same goal.
Even though prescribers and patients benefit from strong pharmacy-prescriber relationships, the responsibility for cultivating those relationships will likely depend on the initiative and effort expended by the community pharmacy.
Fortunately, community pharmacies now have access to more tools than ever before — tools to help determine how and where to apply their resources to deepen existing relationships and build new connections with prescribers.
The age of big data
Thanks to technology, we live in a world where data is more accessible. Pharmacies are accustomed to using data to learn more about their patients, including demographics and buying habits. But they can also analyze the data to learn more about the prescribers whose patients they serve, allowing them to fine-tune their efforts and customize their messaging for the maximum effect.
When choosing where to fill a prescription, a patient or prescriber may select a pharmacy based on proximity to the patient or where the patient last filled a prescription. A referral from a trusted healthcare professional can carry significant weight for the patient deciding which pharmacy to use. Some prescribers, as well as other staff involved in the process, may make pharmacy referrals based purely on their perception of which pharmacy sells the medication at the lowest price. Other prescribers recognize the value of referring patients to an pharmacy that will take the time to cultivate personal connections with patients, providing education and other services that may improve patient adherence and health outcomes.
Analyzing where current prescriptions originate can reveal interesting and unexpected information for a pharmacy. For example, if Dr. Smith’s office is located across the street, or down the hallway from a community pharmacy, that pharmacy might believe they fill most of the prescriptions coming from Dr. Smith’s office. But upon examination of the data, the numbers may suggest the pharmacy fills only a small number of the total scripts Dr. Smith writes. Using data can dispel many misconceptions and help pharmacies identify where their prescription business is coming from, which can help them customize their approach as well as their message.
Much of the data required for this analysis can be found within the community pharmacy’s own systems. Pharmacies may choose to run reports and sift through claims data for information on their own. Others find it beneficial to work with outside consultants or business coaches to produce insightful reports that let them easily identify and evaluate their existing prescriber relationships and assess opportunities to forge new partnerships with healthcare providers.
Using an approach based on data allows pharmacies to take the guesswork out of the equation. When they understand where their prescription volume comes from they can begin to analyze patterns and trends, identifying not only opportunities to build or expand provider relationships, but also how best to leverage the value the pharmacy brings to the prescriber and their patients. In the past, a pharmacy looking to establish new prescriber relationships might have gone out and canvassed a zip code or dispersed a direct-mail piece throughout the area. Data-driven marketing lets community pharmacies narrow their search, and customize their approach, so they can get better results by focusing their time and energy on the most promising prospects.
Using the data also enables pharmacies to identify aspects of a prescriber’s business or patient population that may intersect with the pharmacy’s own strengths. This, in turn, allows a pharmacy to consider what makes them unique and how best to bring value to specific prescribers. For example, if the pharmacy offers hormone replacement therapy (HRT), they might choose to highlight this service when marketing to prescribers who specialize in women’s health or other providers who commonly prescribe this therapy. In another scenario, if the pharmacy provides disease-specific education or resources they may choose to emphasize this aspect for prescribers whose patients would benefit from these opportunities.
Pharmacies can dive even deeper into the data, uncovering details ranging from the most common disease states treated by a specific prescriber to a pharmacy’s average profit-per-prescription by prescriber. Of course, a pharmacy treats patients regardless of profit, but from a business perspective, it makes sense for pharmacies to focus their limited time and resources on cultivating relationships with prescribers where they are more likely to see a profit. For example, two prescribers may be responsible for a similar volume of prescriptions flowing through the pharmacy, but they may generate vastly different profits for the community pharmacy due to differences with products, payers, diseases and other variables.
The pharmacy-patient relationship is critical and must always be a priority. But pharmacies cannot afford to overlook the impact of providers on their business. Remember that establishing a single new prescriber relationship — or capturing a larger percentage of prescriptions from an existing prescriber relationship — can potentially translate into hundreds of new patients and thousands of new prescriptions filled.
The nuts and bolts of constructing stronger prescriber relationships
How does a community pharmacy begin to identify the most important and potentially valuable prescribers then activate that knowledge and use it to build stronger relationships?
- Identify the target audience and craft an effective message: Community pharmacies should customize their outreach message or ‘pitch’ to prescribers based on both the prescriber’s focus and the specific needs of that prescriber’s patients. It’s naïve to believe that a prescriber will welcome a deeper pharmacy relationship simply because they are both in the business of patient care. A pharmacy must prove their value to the prescriber and his/her patients before they earn that trust. A pharmacy must do their research, understanding each provider’s business and some basic information about their patients. This knowledge allows the pharmacy to emphasize their relevant services, and customize their marketing message. For example, a prescriber who has many older patients on Medicare Part D may be more interested a pharmacy who can prove their impact on adherence ratings than a prescriber with a younger patient demographic not currently impacted by performance measures. Similarly, the message to a pediatric office would need to be tailored differently than outreach to a prescriber specializing in adult diseases.
Community pharmacies should consider different variables when defining their target audience of prescribers. These variables could include:
- Proximity to the pharmacy – If nearby prescribers can deliver high patient volume, it may be beneficial for the pharmacy to develop these relationships even if the average profit per prescription is less.
- Prescriber specialty – To develop or expand their pharmacy’s focus on a specific therapeutic area (e.g., endocrinology, cardiovascular health), community pharmacies can use data to identify complimentary products and services they could offer that would appeal to those patients and their prescribers.
- Patient demographic – If community pharmacies want to attract more patients within a specific demographic (e.g., women ages 35-55), it would make sense to focus on providers (such as women’s health clinics) serving those groups of patients.
- Payment methods – If community pharmacies want to increase a specific payment type (cash, Medicaid, third party, etc.) they could concentrate on building relationships with providers who see more patients within these segments. For example, if a pharmacy wanted to grow their cash business, they may choose to focus on developing relationships with providers who are more likely to prescribe treatments not typically covered by insurance (e.g. cosmetic treatments, weight loss, some compounds, etc.).
- Demonstrate value to prescribers: Some pharmacies are flooding the market with messaging that showcases their convenience and competitive prices. To counteract this message and stand out from the competition, community pharmacies have to engage and prove their value to prescribers.
Prescribers and pharmacies have the same primary goal — healthier patients. The pharmacy needs to tell their story — what makes them unique and why are they the best option for the patient. Part of telling their story means making sure prescribers are aware of the full range of services a pharmacy provides for patients. If the pharmacy offers patient counseling, disease-state specific education, specialty packaging, medication therapy management (MTM) or comprehensive medication review (CMR) services, they need to make sure that providers know and understand the value this brings to their patients. Independent pharmacies can even pull data from the EQuIPP platform or other sources that demonstrates their ability to improve patient outcomes.
Incorporated into their marketing conversations, this data demonstrates not only the pharmacy’s focus on patient health and adherence, but their effectiveness. If a prescriber knows that a community pharmacy is committed to working with patients to increase compliance or address caregivers’ questions, this can go a long way toward helping the prescriber feel comfortable recommending the services of a specific independent pharmacy. Of course, prescriber referrals are just a suggestion; the decision is ultimately up to the patient. But patients are more likely to consider a certain community pharmacy if their provider (or even the provider's staff) feel comfortable enough to make the suggestion.
- Pick the best person for the job: Pharmacies need to know the strengths of their own employees and assign the best person for the job. Even the greatest pharmacist may not have the skills and temperament to be comfortable visiting prescriber offices to make a convincing case for why that prescriber should refer patients to them. Outside consultants can help craft a compelling message emphasizing a pharmacy’s unique strengths, but the message and the messenger both matter. Some pharmacists enjoy visiting prescribers’ offices and establishing or reinforcing these relationships. Others would rather delegate this task to someone else who is confident, outgoing and well-spoken with a professional image. Any staff member assigned to this outreach role should be well-versed in all the services the pharmacy can provide and be a good communicator who is diligent about keeping appointments and following up on promising leads.
- Building new relationships: While a community pharmacy might feel confident in its current prescriber relationships, the experience of The Apothecary Shoppe pharmacy in Salt Lake City (see full case study), reminds all pharmacies to continue to cultivate new relationships and strengthen existing ones.
The situation is not uncommon — after a nearby clinic decided to move and open an in-house pharmacy, The Apothecary Shoppe experienced a significant loss in business. Instead of letting his business be crippled by the loss, the pharmacy owner took a proactive approach, combining data with coaching to help focus his prescriber outreach efforts and maximize resources. In this way, The Apothecary Shoppe was able to bounce back and build new relationships with prescribers, increasing prescription volume to previous levels.
There’s no need to wait for a crossroads to learn from The Apothecary Shoppe’s success. Community pharmacies can start today by maximizing available data, assessing their existing prescriber relationships, and looking for additional opportunities to invest in and grow new relationships. Community pharmacies can then start taking steps to strengthen those relationships — benefiting not only the pharmacy, but the patients and prescribers as well.