Pharmacists are slowly coming to grips with the provision of professional services and are fleshing out suitable business models very cautiously.
In part, this caution arises out of a sense of uncertainty because of the culture change that has to be embraced in converting what was previously an unstructured service (provided free of charge) to that of a structured service that a consumer patient would value and pay for independently.
Third party payers, such as health funds and Medicare, cannot initially be factored in for the new business model until after the market establishes itself independently and creates a firm value for the service.
This creates the opportunity for a third-party payer to enter into the equation to subsidise a recognised need with an established value, for the benefit of their own patient clients.
So it could be said that community pharmacy has embraced the strategy of enhancing and expanding a revenue stream as an identifiable component of “core business” and that strategy objectives will be filled by embracing a range of innovative and diverse “tactics” to achieve the desired result.
Marketing guru, Seth Godin, illuminates this process in very precise language, as follows:
“Why even bother to think about strategy?
There’s confusion between tactics and strategy.
It’s easy to get tied up in semantic knots as you work to figure out the distinction.
It’s worth it, though, because strategy can save you when tactics fail.
If a tactic fails, you should consider abandoning it.
But that doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with your strategy.
Your strategy is what you keep doing even after you walk away from a tactic.
A real estate broker could decide that her goal is to get more listings.
And her strategy is to achieve that by becoming the most trusted person in town.
There are then 100 tactics she can use to earn that trust.
She can coordinate events, sponsor teams, host community meetings in her office, sponsor the local baseball team, be transparent about her earnings, hire countless summer interns at a fair wage, run seminars at the local library, etc…
It doesn’t matter if one or two or five of the tactics aren’t home runs.
They add up.
But if once, just once, she violates someone’s trust and expectations, the entire strategy goes out the window.
Tactics are disposable.
Strategy is for the long haul.”
i2P has documented strategy and tactics over many years now, as an attempt to provide thought leadership in the establishment of a professional services business model for community pharmacy.
A description of the strategy promoted looks like this:
Community pharmacy will convert a segment of existing “core business” known as “free professional advice”, and create a structured and exceptional patient presentation titled “health literacy consultation” and “patient education” that will be valued by patients and attract a fee for each occasion of service.
The tactics identified to achieve this strategy include (but are not limited to) the following:
* Develop a patient registration and communication process.
* Design written promotional material that describes the offering that also includes a price list.
* Develop training programs and systems for support staff.
* Design systems for patient engagement e.g. a system that will convert customers to patients that will also recruit new customers for future conversion to patients.
* Design a range of “clinical spaces” that match the privacy and communication needs of patients. Ensure that they are of a unique design and that they attract attention because of their design and signage so they promote their function clearly.
* Design a process for conducting a patient interview.
* Create a three-tier education system that will engage patients with specific health conditions (first tier), that will engage with staff and their training needs (cultural update second tier), and that will further engage with other similarly oriented community pharmacies (shared knowledge and experience third tier).
* Design a range of outreach clinics built around a condition, a public health initiative, or a health need e.g. a diabetes clinic, a stop smoking clinic or a desktop biomarker pathology service.
* Develop skills and qualifications in clinical nutrition so that the health literacy consultations and education initiatives are integrative in nature, developing opportunities for patient self care and safer alternatives for patients.
* Manage the ratio of professional sales (includes dispensing) to total sales in the vicinity of 45 to 55 percent. This is the optimum “balance” that will create an appropriate pharmacy “ambience” and ensure the capacity to sustain professional services.
The above is just a suggested list that can be adopted or replaced with alternative tactics you can better manage.
As Seth Godin says, the long-term strategy remains in place with incremental additions occurring as new insights are identified.
Like an article that recently appeared in the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice describing a study using Google to identify the health links accessed by number of visitors, date and health information type as noted in the objectives component of the abstract as follows:
“The aim was to provide a comprehensive overview (using pertinent examples) of the various ways that Google Trends and Google data could inform pharmacy practice. The objectives were to: examine what type of information people search for in relation to a common class of medicines; ascertain where people are directed to (websites) following an initial search for a medicine or medical condition; and establish information about when they search.”
Obviously, this process could work as a basic market research tool that could help to structure timely health literacy or patient education initiatives in a more focussed manner, as summarised in the conclusion segment of the abstract:
“This is one of the first studies to investigate use of Google Trends and Google in a pharmacy‐specific context. It is relevant for practice as it could inform marketing strategies, public health policy and help tailor patient advice and counselling.”
So, one more tactic that can be added to the list that can integrate with the overall strategy, to sit alongside all the other tactics that you have identified as being relevant to your business model.
All the above is representative of the type of homework that you also need to engage in, prior to offering the first patient service.
Strategy should also embrace your long-term vision for your business model while each tactic helps to position a service within the context of the strategic vision you hold for your business model.
The nearest analogy is the market positioning of a product market positioning classification, which maps a product within a section within a department.
An example would be say Benadryl Expectorant within the “cough mixtures” section found in the “cough and cold department.
Professional services need to be market-positioned in exactly the same way as you develop your market plan.
This type of plan helps in the education of all personnel attached to the delivery of professional services, as well as patients.
Mapping all service segments helps in strategic planning and the allocation of resources, because your “map” becomes the central plan for service delivery.
And in the service delivery the value of trust must exist at the epicentre – integrity, privacy preparedness and transparency must all exist as co-equals to build a trust relationship with your patient.
Then watch the Gallup poll rise and rise.