Independent Community Pharmacies to the Rescue – Part 1

By John Norton

Each year’s release of the Gallup survey on professional honesty and integrity, J.D. Power and Associates U.S. Pharmacy Study on patient satisfaction and Boehringer Ingelheim’s comprehensive data validate the popularity of independent community pharmacies’ patient-friendly business model. However, even these convincing numbers and analyses cannot fully reflect the personal stories that help illustrate what distinguishes these community pharmacies.

A hallmark of independent community pharmacies is their ingenuity and flexibility to achieve the goals of proving uninterrupted prescription drug services to their patients, even under the most trying of circumstances. For example, David Miller of Millers Homecare and Compounding Pharmacy in Wyckoff, New Jersey sent us this dispatch of his experience during Hurricane Sandy in late October 2012:

Sandy left us without power for nine business days. The roads were closed during the first day after the storm so no one was allowed to travel anywhere. However, as soon as the roads were passable we opened the pharmacy using flashlights and pens. We had no light, heat, computers or phones.

The first two days we also had very limited cell phone access so our only means of communication was to put up a huge “we are open” sign out on the sidewalk. Once the cell phone coverage was back up we were able to post a message through Facebook announcing that we were open. As we still had no operational computers we invited everyone in need to simply bring their prescription bottles to the pharmacy and we would provide them with an emergency supply of medication at no cost. Initially we gave people a three-day supply, but as it became apparent that the emergency was going to last longer than that, we extended the amount to a 10-day supply.

To place orders we created a hot spot for an iPad using our cell phones. This was cumbersome but effective as we started receiving orders within two days of the disaster.

To restore some phone service we forwarded all calls initially to one of our employees who works out of her home in North Carolina. She, in turn, would call us back on our cell phones. Eventually we forwarded calls to our fax lines which were still working.

It took almost a month to finally bill out all of the medication we had dispensed but none of my customers lost even one day without medication.

It should be no surprise to learn that many of the emergency prescriptions we filled were for mail order customers left completely without the means to order or receive medication. In most cases the PBMs allowed us to bill for these after the fact, but one plan initially refused because the patient had a “mandatory” mail order plan and no coverage at the retail level. It took 45 minutes on the phone to finally reach a supervisor to correct this egregious policy.

After reading Dave’s yeoman-like efforts, which were replicated in some capacity at many independent community pharmacies through the affected region, you can come see why patients value and appreciate these health care pillars of the community because local pharmacies are just as interested in making a difference as making a buck.

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