Building Physician Relationships, Part Two

By Tanya Mericle |

For Pharmacies: Differentiation Through Prescriber Specialty

Strong relationships are the lifeblood of a community pharmacy’s business. All pharmacies strive to build good relationships with their patients, but it’s equally important for a community pharmacy to recognize the importance of their relationships with prescribers.

It’s the prescribers, nurses and staff within a medical practice who may guide patients (directly or indirectly) toward a particular pharmacy. If these providers, and their gatekeepers, feel confident that a community pharmacy is uniquely qualified to take care of their patients and keep them healthy and compliant, the likelihood that a prescriber will recommend the pharmacy increases.

It’s also important to acknowledge the impact of the unintentional referral. As an example, the discharge nurse attempting to ease a patient’s concerns with cost may inadvertently direct that patient to a specific pharmacy — simply because of a perception that the prices are lower.

In the end, deciding where to fill a prescription ultimately rests with the patient, but a recommendation from a trusted healthcare professional can help patients make the best choice. And ensuring that those healthcare professionals recognize the value of community pharmacy is key to a successful relationship.

Strength through Specialization
It’s naïve to assume that a prescriber will welcome a pharmacy relationship simply because both are in the business of caring for patients. A pharmacy must prove their value to a prescriber before earning that trust. When looking to grow an existing provider relationship or establish a new relationship, pharmacies have to do their research. By understanding each provider’s practice and some basic information about their patients, a pharmacy can customize their marketing strategy, emphasizing those services and solutions that are most relevant to a specific provider based on their specialty or patient population. Demonstrating value to the prescriber in this way is more compelling than an annual gift basket or a generic message about the pharmacy. When deciding what brings value to a provider, community pharmacies should consider their own services and what makes them unique. Analyzing the data can reveal useful insights about their key providers and the needs of their patients — information they can use to shape their messaging.

Two examples of how a pharmacy can highlight their value specific to a patient demographic or a provider’s area of practice are:

  • Pediatrics — When a pharmacy works with a number of pediatric providers, or if they have chosen to target this demographic for growth, the pharmacy will need to focus on serving a dual population: both children and parents. In fact, serving pediatric patients can be a bonus since parents often prefer the convenience of filling their own prescriptions at the same pharmacy where they pick up their children’s medicine. If the goal is to increase referrals from providers serving a pediatric population, it’s a good idea to emphasize any assets or special services the pharmacy provides to meet the needs of children and parents. A pharmacy marketing to this niche may choose to emphasize:
    • A convenient place for children to wait and/or play while their parents are talking with the pharmacist
    • Free healthy-kids vitamins 
    • A full schedule of childhood immunizations
    • Compounding services to provide flavored formulations or alternative routes of administration
    • Specific educational materials or classes focusing on childhood illnesses or conditions
    • Convenient drive-through or curbside pickup 
    • Availability of child-size athletic braces and bandages 

  • Internal medicine — It’s clear that the marketing message for an internist would feature very different pharmacy services than those of the previous example of the pediatric provider. Given the many different subspecialties within internal medicine, there are many ways for a community pharmacy to tailor their message to highlight the most relevant services. Having a better understanding of the provider’s practice allows the pharmacy to emphasize their services according to what is most meaningful to the provider and their patients — for example, a pharmacy might feature specific services for a prescriber treating more endocrine issues and accentuate other services for a provider with an infectious-disease focus. If the pharmacy desires to grow their business with a focus on older adults, their message could highlight the pharmacy services most needed by those specific patients. Some examples may include:
    • Diabetes education (including nutrition or cooking classes)
    • Smoking cessation classes or aides for COPD
    • Vaccinations for older adults
    • Medication reviews to help older patients/caregivers review medications and ensure that they understand
    • Assistance with Medicare enrollment
    • Dose packaging for safety and convenience
    • Delivery or curbside pickup
    • Disease-specific education

Remember, every pharmacy has its own strengths and areas of expertise. What would benefit the patients of one provider may bring little value to another. That’s why it’s so important for a community pharmacy to do research up front, analyze the data and gain a good understanding of the specific needs of the prescribers in their area — those who currently have a significant impact on the pharmacy’s volume as well as those providers whom the pharmacy wants to develop. Armed with this information, the pharmacy can build stronger prescriber relationships based on the pharmacy’s value to the provider and the patient. These mutually beneficial relationships lead not only to higher prescription volume, but to healthier patients and better health outcomes.

About the Author

Tanya Mericle 2017

Tanya Mericle

Director, Business Coaching Operations
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