Drug companies have a new avenue to reach dispersed independent pharmacists, a group that traditionally has stronger ties to local communities than industry or distributors.
McKesson Pharmaceutical has launched a franchising initiative to give independent pharmacists more negotiating power with pharmacy benefits managers (PBMs) and open communication with drug makers.
By joining the Health Mart franchise, independent pharmacy owners are united under a national brand, and can maximize their buying power and share market intelligence.
The franchise also offers drug companies a single avenue into local communities, giving marketers the ability to devise consistent education and promotional programs across franchises that also have a local feel.
Independent pharmacists also want greater interaction with drug makers.
Douglas Hoey, senior vice president and COO of the National Community Pharmacy Association, noted that the organization recently surveyed its members on whether they wanted more interaction with drug sales reps. "Overwhelmingly, the answer was yes," he said.
"The big [pharma] companies tend to ignore the independents," said Tim Canning, vice president of retail marketing for McKesson. "There's no consistent retail execution."
Yet independent pharmacists are often involved not only in selling drugs, but in programs such as clinical-trial recruitment. They can also spot local drug utilization trends that could be beneficial to manufacturers.
Through Health Mart, "the branded manufacturers have a communication vehicle into those pharmacies," said Andy Burtis, vice president of marketing services for McKesson.
Cardinal Health already operates its Medicine Shoppe franchise for independent pharmacists. But McKesson executives say Health Mart requires no sign-up fees or long-term commitments, unlike many other franchises.
A national advertising campaign for Health Mart will focus on the patient-pharmacist relationship, and McKesson is also working with Interbrand on branding efforts.
"They're able to keep their independence but have a collective strength," Burtis said.
He added that 350 pharmacies have already joined Health Mart, and that McKesson aims to have 1,000 stores on board by next year. It hopes to draw members from stores that are already part of its AccessHealth managed care and contracting program.
The increasing dominance of PBMs, as well as new pressures created by Medicare Part D reimbursement, have put pressure on community pharmacists. But even as the landscape has changed, fewer pharmacy schools are providing courses on how to manage a business, according to Hoey.