This was the year that pharmacists took the lead to determine their own future.
Our year-end roundup on Page 4 of the top five news stories characterizes 1994 as the year pharmacy fought back to try to regain control of its customer base and to be able to buy pharmaceuticals at equitable prices. Supermarket pharmacists were well represented in the fray.
As this year comes to a close, there are encouraging signs that retail pharmacy is on the verge of achieving both of these aims.
Item: Super Net, the network of supermarket pharmacy operators formed last year to seek third-party plan business, has signed a major contract with Southwest Health Plan of Dallas. The contract, covering 250,000 lives, is now shared with Eckerd Drug, Largo, Fla., which previously was the sole provider.
Item: Pharmacy Direct Network, the community pharmacy-based provider network formed in March, has signed its first contract with Fuji Photo Film, Elmsford, N.Y. The contract takes effect Jan. 1.
Item: The largest of the lawsuits concerning the pricing of pharmaceuticals has been certified to proceed as a class action on behalf of 60,000 pharmacies. A trial date has been set of Feb. 5, 1996. Among the pending litigation against pharmaceuticals manufacturers and drug wholesalers alleging price fixing and price discrimination is a suit filed in Cincinnati in February by four major supermarket pharmacy operators. For now, all the suits based on federal statutes have been consolidated in Chicago for the purposes of discovery and deposition.
Item: Some chinks are appearing in the coat of armor that is the rigid class-of-trade-based pricing structure for pharmaceuticals. Legislation passed in Maine banning discriminatory pricing practices has resulted in some manufacturers charging lower prices to pharmacy retailers in that state. Also, rebates paid for formulary placement and market-share shifts have opened a back door for retail pharmacies to obtain better pricing. Item: Improved computer systems and new data bases have given pharmacists more tools than ever before to provide professional care to patients. New services, such as Rapid RxEmit offered by Pharmacy Fund, New York, can help pharmacies maintain tighter control over the 50% share of the business that is reimbursed by third-party plans.
Perhaps most important, the professional side of pharmacy is being recognized as never before by retailers that employ pharmacists, including supermarkets and mass merchants, such as Kmart, Troy, Mich. (See story on Page 8.)
There is recognition throughout the profession that pharmaceutical care and payment for pharmacist services is the direction that pharmacy must move in, not only for its survival, but also because such services are needed.
At the same time, the importance of having a relationship with an individual pharmacist in building customer loyalty is being recognized throughout all retail practice settings. Supermarket pharmacy directors we have profiled in the past year have observed that the individual pharmacist can make or break the business. The demand is great for pharmacists with not only professional knowledge but also a caring demeanor.
Also boding well for the future are the results of surveys conducted this year by Supermarket Pharmacy and the Food Marketing Institute that point to continuing growth for pharmacies in supermarkets. More than three-quarters of FMI's member supermarkets said they planned to add pharmacies in 1994.
Here's hoping that 1995 will be the year pharmacy wins some of these battles. Pharmacists can then go back to concentrating on taking good care of customers, ensuring that pharmaceuticals are used appropriately and, in a cost-effective manner, thereby assuring pharmacists' own future as well.