The Pharmacy’s New Role in Providing Healthcare Services

Changes in the pharmacist’s role and in the community pharmacy are impacting healthcare delivery, and these trends will continue to accelerate in this rapidly transitioning environment. Today’s pharmacies are offering expanded healthcare services in the retail setting and are also ideal locations to raise disease awareness and deliver educational information at multiple points of contact. These include the over the counter (OTC) and personal care aisles, the pharmacy counter, in specialty publications and in the prescription pick-up areas. Not only are these innovations beneficial to pharmacy customers, but they also create opportunities for pharmaceutical marketers and offer a measurable return on investment.

Evolution of the Pharmacy and Pharmacists Role

Fifty years ago, the primary role of pharmacists was solely to dispense prescriptions. They were not permitted to discuss medications with patients and had to refer them back to their physicians when questions arose. Over time, pharmacists began to supply some very basic information about prescriptions.

Today, circumstances are very different. Retailers are equipping their pharmacists as never before with the tools they need to be providers of enhanced services and to engage with patients. One significant example is in the dramatic increase in the number of pharmacists trained to deliver vaccinations, up from 40,000 to 150,000 between 2007 and 2011. These services allow pharmacies to reach out to even more people, who are approaching pharmacists to ask questions not only about their prescriptions, but also about health-related issues.

In recognizing the important role pharmacists play in improving health outcomes, Larry Merlo, President and CEO of CVS Caremark, said in a press release, “The healthcare landscape in our nation is changing and pharmacists are no longer simply dispensing medication. Our pharmacists are also providing important healthcare services through innovative programs and services across our practice settings.” Now, a consumer can pick up a loaf of bread after getting a flu shot or consult with a pharmacist about new advances in blood pressure treatment while purchasing some aspirin. All of this can be done at the community pharmacy at the consumer’s convenience.

At the Summit in October, 2013, Gregory Wasson, the CEO of Walgreens, showed a promotional video that, in part, said, “We are bringing our pharmacists out from behind the counter so you can get the expertise you need to feel a little more healthy.” He went on to say “Our purpose is to help people get, stay and live well…to transform the role that community pharmacy plays in healthcare in this nation and beyond.”These changes allow pharmacies to advance their positions as healthcare locations by implementing health and wellness programs within the stores’ settings.

The expanded role of the pharmacist allows for quality interactions—a key component in patient retention and medication adherence. One recent anecdotal example comes from a pharmacy student who said that his parents only pick up their prescriptions when they know a particular pharmacist is working because they appreciate the way she treats them. This is an example of the personality component that a well-regarded pharmacist brings to the retail setting and supports the role that pharmacists are striving to be perceived as trusted advisors who can offer assistance to patients with their health concerns and needs.

Pharmacies are devoting more time and attention to offering a wide spectrum of services. Screening tests, wellness programs, vaccinations, clinics and on-site educational events are not only a convenience to consumers but also establish the community pharmacy’s value as a healthcare resource. In addition to being expedient places to purchase daily necessities, they are becoming destinations for consumers seeking healthcare solutions. One example of this is the development of retail clinics within pharmacies. It is estimated that by 2015 the number of retail clinics will double from 1,418 to over 2,868 nationwide.1 Additionally, 27% of adults say they have used retail clinics for medical care2 and and more than 15 million people, on estimate, have been treated in a walk-in clinic.3 And, 38% of in-store clinic customers will make an OTC purchase.4

Pharmacy as a Point of Care

In a Forbes article from earlier this year, John Nosta wrote, “From advice to device, the pharmacy has always represented a first line of defense for health information and wellness. The digital revolution shouldn’t diminish this much, but further entrench the pharmacy practice as an essential component of care—with a human touch and a digital reach.” In order for pharmacies to appeal as points of care, both the stores and the pharmacists must be viewed as easily accessible. In urban centers, consumers are about 1.4 miles from a community pharmacy and in many instances there are several pharmacies within this range.5 Just about everyone can get to a pharmacy. Additionally, 81% of adults prefer initially to self-treat their minor ailments with OTC products, and pharmacists are available to help them select the right ones, according to a report from the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. It’s no surprise that with pharmacists spending more time with patients discussing both prescription and other health-related concerns, they were ranked second (behind nurses) in their honesty and ethical standards in a recent Gallup poll.

Communication Channels

Pharmacies are responding to the need for health information by providing a platform for in-store methods of education and communication. Some of these methods include:

  • Information dispensers at the shelf
  • Prescription bag newsletters
  • Pharmacy counter displays
  • Specialty health newsletters or magazines
  • Digital screens

By using these approaches in their stores, pharmacies have the information available when solutions are sought, whether it is in the OTC areas, at the pharmacy counter or elsewhere. Wherever the placement, it is viewed as coming from a trusted source. As they fulfill the needs of patients who are increasingly more involved in monitoring and managing their health, pharmacies are becoming valuable channels for pharmaceutical companies to reach a large and relevant audience.

Measuring the Impact

Just as it is with every marketing effort, it’s important to know the effects of programs delivered in the pharmacy. Through the use of retailer prescription data, matched-panel research can be implemented. This involves the creation of control and test stores, which provide an excellent foundation for measuring the impact of the consumer effort on the actual purchase of medications and determining the return on investment. The sales differences between control and test stores can be calculated and extrapolated across the entire group of stores to ascertain the impact on sales (see Figure 1). It is a perfect closed loop for quantitatively determining the effects of pharmacy-based programs.


Pharmaceutical companies have more resources available than ever before to educate patients in the retail pharmacy environment. Since every patient-directed marketing dollar counts, the measurability of pharmacy programs as well as the use of high-quality metrics in these programs are distinct advantages. It’s crucial to remember, however, that patients have varying needs when it comes to receiving health information. To complicate matters, their communication preferences may change depending on the health issue at hand. For example, a patient with diabetes may be comfortable attending a wellness event, while someone with a more sensitive health concern may prefer to pick up a brochure or information from a shelf dispenser. It is advantageous for marketers to take advantage of the myriad ways to reach both current and prospective patients through the pharmacy setting.

Pharmacies and Healthcare Reform

With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as many as 30 million additional people are expected to enter the healthcare system. The pharmacy is both a natural place to find information about the ACA and an “entry point” for new patients who are being added to the system. For example, in some of its locations, Rite Aid offers free Affordable Care Counseling at many of its locations.  Walgreens has a partnership with Go Health, an online health insurance portal. CVS has added a detailed section devoted to answering ACA questions on their website and has also installed Health Information Centers in their stores with ACA-specific brochures. The company is also inviting independent educators and health plan representatives to their “Project Health” wellness events. And, Giant Eagle is offering free in-store information sessions designed to answer questions about the ACA (see Figure 2).


Patients who visit the retail pharmacy do so because they are ready to take a step forward with their health challenges. Knowing that trusted healthcare professionals (pharmacists) are easily accessible encourages patients to ask for assistance with their healthcare needs. In an interview with Jim Cramer shown at the Summit, Wasson summed this up when he said, “We wanted to reinvent the drug store format and step into something different. What we are doing and what you are seeing is a transformation in what we call the traditional drug store, to a retail health and daily living destination.” By presenting targeted options for educating patients on solutions in a pharmacy environment that is expanding its health services, pharmaceutical companies can provide patients with the knowledge they desire at the time they are seeking it.

1. Accenture ACN
2. Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll
3. Convenient Care Associates (CCA)
4. Forbes Connection Report OTC/Health 2012
5. NCPDP Pharmacy File, ArcGIS Census Tract File, NACDS Economics Department

  • Jim O’Dea

    Jim O’Dea is President and CEO of Rx EDGE Pharmacy Networks. Jim heads the company, which assists pharmaceutical brands in educating and acquiring new patients, increasing product awareness, and enhancing patient compliance through programs delivered in the retail pharmacy marketing channel. Call 847 879-6036 or visit


You May Also Like

10 Crucial Steps to a Powerful Marketing Plan

In today’s environment, an effective pharmaceutical marketing plan is no longer about getting as ...

Five Reasons Your Pharma Brand Is Stalled—And What To Do About It

We all know the symptoms. The slope on your total prescriptions (TRx) forecast is ...