Personal service trumps mail Rx — again

How do patients want to get their prescription medicines and the advice that comes with them? In person, face to face, with their pharmacist.

That’s the clear message consumers had for researchers for J.D. Power and Associates, which released its "2012 U.S. Pharmacy Study" on Sept. 27. The annual survey found that “satisfaction among customers using mail-order pharmacies to fill their prescriptions continues to decline, falling significantly below customer satisfaction with brick-and-mortar pharmacies,” according to J.D. Power’s report on its nationwide poll.

“Overall satisfaction with mail-order pharmacies averages 792 [on a 1,000-point scale] in 2012, which is 22 points below the average overall satisfaction score for brick-and-mortar pharmacies this year, and 14 points lower than in 2011,” J.D. Power reported. “This marks the second consecutive year of significant declines in customer satisfaction with mail-order pharmacies.”

By contrast, researchers said, “overall satisfaction with brick-and-mortar pharmacies has held steady year over year.” It comes as no surprise that now, more than ever, patients want the personal contact, professional guidance and understanding that only an in-person chat with a pharmacist can provide. Even if the interaction between pharmacist and patient only takes a moment or two at the pickup counter, patients who are confronted by a new or chronic condition and, sometimes, a scary new diagnosis, need more than a package in their mailbox, a densely written set of instructions and a long-distance phone number.

“Customer service is becoming an increasingly important advantage of the brick-and-mortar pharmacy experience,” said Rick Millard, senior director of the healthcare practice at J.D. Power. “The pharmacist is at the heart of that customer service. While the majority of customers don't speak with the pharmacist, their presence may help draw customers to stores.”

Among independent drug stores, Health Mart ranked highest, while Walgreens led retail pharmacy chains in customer satisfaction. Topping among mass merchants is Sam's Club, according to the survey, while Publix pharmacists scored highest within the supermarket pharmacy channel (see the Drug Store News report here. Given the high esteem patients have for pharmacists, said Millard, “it's surprising that more customers don't utilize the opportunity” to ask for their advice and counsel when picking up their scripts. J.D. Power found that only 23% of patients actually speak with a professional during the dispensing process.

That’s not a great utilization of expertise, and it points up the gap that still yawns between the oft-stated goals of pharmacy advocates for a more engaged and patient-centered level of pharmacy practice, and the reality that still prevails at most busy pharmacy counters. Many pharmacists are still tied to a dispensing workload that precludes a lot of time-consuming patient interaction and disease management. And let’s not forget the reality on the other side of the counter: many patients simply don’t care whether they speak with a pharmacist or not when picking up basic prescriptions. You can’t fault the pharmacist or the pharmacy’s practice guidelines for that.

What do you think? If you’re a pharmacist practicing in a community setting, do you feel you have the time for a higher level of clinical care and personal patient care? Does your employer encourage it? And are your patients even asking for it, or aware they can get it? Please share your thoughts by clicking on the link below.