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Understanding Pharmacy Issues to Strengthen Connections

As a representative of CharityRx, our main goal for the pharmacy teams we meet is to help them understand what makes our card different from all others and encourage them to use it to help their patients and themselves. The 30 to 60-second conversation we have when we visit doesn’t always allow us time to learn much about them or specific issues they may face. If we’re lucky, we may get a nugget of information from them, which hopefully is then shared with other reps through Telegram. Below are some current issues many pharmacies are dealing with, which will help us become more empathetic and hopefully foster stronger relationships through a greater understanding.

Drug shortages are among one of the biggest problems in pharmacy today.

Drug shortages arise for many reasons, such as manufacturing and quality problems, delays, and discontinuations. Manufacturers provide the FDA drug shortage information such as new discontinuances, GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) issues, increases in product demand, recalls, supply interruptions, or other events, and the agency then works with them to prevent or reduce the potential impact.

The global data company Statista reported in January 2023 that 66 percent of drug shortages were related to injectable drugs. The University of Utah Drug Information Service has tracked drug shortages since 2001. They report that shortages in 2023 are near their highest level in ten years, though historically, the shortages were much worse in the past. Currently, the number of active shortages stands north of 300 drugs in the U.S. Chemotherapy and injectable medications are among the most affected. Data is also updated and posted regularly on a website hosted by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists.

Why are pharmacies struggling?

The trend since 2017 has been more pharmacies closing than opening, according to an August 29, 2023 article by Sky News. This trend is not limited to the U.S. Reasons include government funding cuts, rising rents and costs, staff shortages, supply issues, and increased patient demand.

Despite what appears to be a grim future, retail pharmacy actually continues to grow in revenue. According to Vision Research Reports, the global pharmacy market revenue is expected to increase to $1,522B by 2030, up from $1,009B in 2020.

Staffing Issues are part of the reason the number of pharmacists is declining.

Retail pharmacists who work for large chains like CVS and Walgreens have continually complained about staffing issues and the rising pressure of corporate performance metrics, which they say pushes a limited number of workers to handle the increasing workload of prescriptions, vaccinations, and other tasks.

A CNN interview with CVS and Walgreens employees revealed that management's increased focus on vaccinations added to their workload and made it more challenging to focus on filling prescriptions and customer care. One employee stated that the retailers had “turned into a vaccination clinic first and a pharmacy second.”

The downward staffing trend does not seem to be changing any time soon. CVS announced in August 2023 that it planned to fire 5,000 workers in the U.S. to cut expenses, as they face cost pressures from integrating multi-billion-dollar deals.

Another reason for cost issues may be related to drug reimbursements to pharmacies being too low. Pharmacy groups and members of Congress blame pharmacy benefit management (PBM) companies, who negotiate drug prices with manufacturers, insurers, and pharmacies.

A 2022 National Community Pharmacists Association survey showed that nearly 75% of respondents felt they needed more time to safely perform clinical duties and patient care. Stores often operate with just one pharmacist behind the counter for a 12-hour shift. According to the Washington Post, this increased workload leads to elevated stress and a potential quick burnout rate.

According to a 2023 report by the National Pharmacists Workforce Study, shortages have led to highly stressful job environments for pharmacists, with problems ranging from work-life balance issues and heavy workloads contributing to burnout. The burnout rate data among pharmacists involved 11,306 participants across eight countries. It found that more than half (51%) of pharmacists were experiencing burnout.

Another issue is that the growth of pharmacy schools outweighs the declining demand for pharmacists. Pharmacies are experiencing increased automation and lower reimbursement, and the rise of mail-order pharmacies has left many pharmacists scrambling to find a job.

Automation and New Technology

It is anticipated that in the next ten years, there will be too many pharmacists relative to demand. For patients, the main issues will still be increasing drug costs and limited access and compliance. Medication regimens are becoming more complex and thus require significant patient support. Emerging technology will change the role of pharmacists in drug dispensing and patient consultation.

Robotics will be a major trend as early as 2024, with half of pharmacists’ duties to become more automated by 2030. Robots can help improve accuracy, detect errors more quickly, and increase efficiency by filling prescriptions rapidly, thus reducing patient wait times. This will allow the pharmacists to spend more time on patient care, both online and in person.

Automation will not eliminate the need for pharmacists. Robots can undoubtedly count and fill prescriptions faster, but you still need a pharmacist to check the medication. It's the law. Only humans can also provide the necessary communication, understanding, and problem-solving. Things can change depending on the role of automation, but this will likely not happen in the near future.

Empathy and Connection are Key

Being more aware of pharmacy staff's issues and stresses can help CharityRx reps empathize and make more genuine connections with the people behind the counter. Your patience, understanding, and positive attitude could make a real difference in the lives of the people you’re meeting while visiting your accounts. Stress the ease of use and price stability of the CharityRx card, and do your best to leave them smiling and with a commitment to give it a shot.

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