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How to Overcome 4 Common Challenges in Pharmacy Customer Experience

Tochi Yaba
March 18, 2024
How to Overcome 4 Common Challenges in Pharmacy Customer Experience

As the pharmacy practice evolves and expands beyond the traditional medication dispensing model, it is crucial to enhance and streamline the customer experience strategy accordingly. Augmenting medication dispensing with a wide range of products and services enhances value to customers but it can also strain the already limited labor resources of pharmacies. This creates an unsustainable scenario, ultimately leading to employee burnout and leaving gaps in the general customer experience.

Customer experience (CX) refers to the customer's perception of the quality of products and services offered and received. It encompasses every touchpoint, from patient prescription intake to pick-up or delivery, and extends to ongoing interactions with the pharmacy staff for refills and other routine services.

Gaps in pharmacy customer experiences can result from numerous factors. These are some of the common culprits we believe pharmacies should proactively address to enable the seamless integration of value-added services and adapt to changing customer preferences.

1. Labor Issues

Fast and friendly service often makes for a positive customer experience. However, given the tight labor market and rising payroll expenses, it is often arduous to maintain adequate staffing in pharmacies to provide such service. Most pharmacy leaders that we have spoken with over time have expressed alarm regarding the high pharmacy technician turnover rates and the difficulties in finding qualified candidates.

With the ongoing pervasive staffing shortages, there is an increase in individual workloads resulting in staff burnout and consequent gaps in the customer experience. There seems to be no solution on the horizon for the issue. In fact, it seems to be only getting worse.

To fill this gap, pharmacy leaders should consider technology and tools that can help streamline processes and automate routine pharmacy workflow tasks. Leveraging technologies that integrate into the usual workflow to identify and convert routine tasks into actions or actionable insights will decrease labor costs and the need to hire more staff. It will also decrease the individual workload, enable the pharmacy to operate more efficiently, and afford room to expand to new services, all of which will enhance the overall patient experience.

2. Legacy Engagement

Pharmacies generally have a poor track record of adopting digital innovation when compared to other healthcare provider counterparts. The legacy patient engagement features that are native to most pharmacy management systems (PMS) often fall short of providing the level of automation and personalization necessary to adapt to ever-changing consumer preferences. It is not uncommon for patients to call the pharmacy to inquire about text messages received that have limited information or next action steps. 

The traditional means of patient engagement in pharmacies which includes phone calls, IVR, and one-way texting can be sufficient to some extent but can leave gaps in the execution of the pharmacy operation. The incessant ringing of the phones throughout the day is the bane of any pharmacy staff’s existence, highlighting the consequences of the inadequacy of current patient engagement tools in use today. Most of these calls fielded by pharmacies involve routine tasks whose answers can be automated by harnessing data on customer preferences and behavior to create a more personalized experience. These not only enhance patient outcomes but can improve trust and drive customer loyalty. 

3. Prescription Costs

Cost is typically the elephant in the room. Numerous factors affect the final price of a patient’s medications including whether they are insured or uninsured. The general lack of transparency in the existing drug pricing structure adds to negative experiences often complained about by customers in the pharmacy setting. Encountering sticker shock at the pharmacy more often results in a barrier to medication access and exacerbates adherence problems.

The rise in high deductible health plans (HDHP) has also shifted more costs to consumers, changing how patients shop for healthcare including prescriptions. Industry data shows that over 70% of insured patients comparison shop for the best price between their insurance out-of-pocket cost and drug discount cards. 

It is inherently important that pharmacies have an efficient strategy for tackling this issue since cost affects medication access and revenue. There is no simple solution, but pharmacies can improve transparency by leveraging data to provide their customers access to dynamic pricing that’s benchmarked on industry data. Such tools should make it easy to identify and apply savings on eligible brand name drugs. The goal should be to eliminate pricing ambiguity, improve decision making, and inspire action that helps pharmacies deliver medication affordability at scale without sacrificing profits.

4. Expanding Offering

Pharmacies that offer a wide range of products and services play a pivotal role in supporting their customers’ health and wellness journeys. Generally speaking, there has been an expansion of the range of services offered in pharmacies over time. These services may include health and wellness screenings, vaccinations, adherence packaging options,  urgent clinic, primary care, direct-to-consumer, subscription-based pricing, custom compounding, pharmacogenomics, medication therapy management, and prescription delivery.

These differentiated offerings are necessary because they help meet customer healthcare needs and contribute to improving customer lifetime value (CLV). They’ve also become essential as the industry evolves and prescription dispensing services become commoditized. The method by which these services are introduced should be evaluated from a customer experience redesign standpoint to ensure they are not taking a toll on employees or resulting in an unnecessary financial loss.

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