BOSTON -- The pharmacy of the future, according to speakers and exhibitors at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores' Pharmacy Conference and Managed Care Forum, will be guided largely by cost-saving priorities of managed-care organizations and automation.
It was a familiar message to an estimated 2,200 attendees, who turned out for the annual event held here. Representatives from such supermarket chains as Kroger Co., Albertson's, Giant Food, Meijer, Smith's Food & Drug Centers, Shaw's Supermarkets and Dominick's Finer Foods were seen at the conference.
Stan Hutchinson, chief operating officer of MedImpact, San Diego, a pharmacy benefit manager with more than 100 health maintenance organizations as clients, said that HMOs are beginning to realize that pharmacy screening and counseling services could reduce costs in the long run. He made his remarks during a workshop on future trends in prescription plans.
He added, though, that these services must be strictly performance-based, with patient compliance incentives that promise a quick payback, if pharmacists are to count on reimbursement for them.
Commenting on the conference, David Schulberg, director of pharmacy at Fred Meyer Inc., Portland, Ore., said, "I like the trend I'm seeing here toward emphasizing patient compliance."
And Jane Siebert, director of pharmacy operations at Hutchinson, Kan.-based Dillon Food Stores, said the conference heralded a new spirit of cooperation not just between chain and independent pharmacies but also among pharmacies, doctors, HMOs and pharmacy benefit management companies. "I think the most important thing is we've finally learned we have to work together. Our problems are much bigger than any one company can deal with."
In addition to drug giants like Merck, Pharmacia & Upjohn and Eli Lilly & Co., the 258 exhibitors at the conference included many companies offering state-of-the-art pharmacy software and prescription-dispensing machines.
"The technology on display here is awesome," said Stuart Seltzer, director of pharmacy operations at Pathmark Stores, Woodbridge, N.J. "But the pharmacist shouldn't feel that it will replace him. "
"The key seems to be that a lot of [the automation] isn't tested yet," said Siebert. "It's hard to weigh the benefits just from seeing these things on the show floor."
Ken Fasulo, a member of Scarborough, Maine-based Hannaford Bros.' in-store systems team, accompanied five Hannaford pharmacists to the show.
"I'm looking at any labor-saving devices," he said. "As our volume grows, we can't keep throwing a $60,000-a-year pharmacist at the volume."