Dollar Store Pharmacy

     Guess what could be coming to a dollar store near you soon?  That’s right, a pharmacy.  And if you live in Florida, it could be coming sooner rather than later. 

     I guess I shouldn’t be surprised at anything I hear in the news related to the profession of pharmacy anymore.  And yet, somehow this story still makes me shake my head in disbelief.  But then again, nothing could summarize the evolution of community pharmacy better than having a dollar store add a pharmacy counter.  And that is exactly what is going to happen soon. 

     Supermarket News details the story for anyone interested.  It seems that the dollar store chain Dollar Tree is toying with the idea of adding pharmacies to their deep discount retail operations.  So much so that they have already contracted with a third party operator named PharmaGo to open a pharmacy in one of their Florida locations.  The pharmacy will open later this month in one of Dollar Tree’s Deal$ format stores in West Park, FL.

      But is this a viable option for a deep discount merchant like Dollar Tree?  Will they be any more or less capable of operating retail pharmacies as anyone else already in the industry?  Or is this a failure waiting to happen and a testament as to how far community pharmacy has fallen in recent years? 

       One the one hand, discount retailers like giant Walmart have operated pharmacies for years.  While one can argue whether Walmart pharmacies were a positive or negative for the industry, they are commonplace now within that retailer’s stores.  Can the likes of Dollar Tree make pharmacies work within the confines of their business model as well? 

       The one planned pharmacy is set to open later this month in the Florida location mentioned above.  I can’t help but wonder what the reception will be from consumers in that area.  Will they accept a pharmacy located inside a dollar store?  Do consumers even care as long as it is convenient for them?   Will this development spur the “fast food pharmacy” customer mentality that is already commonplace among retail pharmacy shoppers? 

        Part of me thinks that this can’t be any worse than allowing companies like Rite Aid to operate retail pharmacies.  And considering the average reimbursement for a prescription claim these days, I think a dollar store is quite an ironic location for a retail pharmacy.  After all, we’re lucky to get paid even $1 to fill that prescription for the patient on the other side of the prescription counter. 

        But part of me worries that this is a further devaluation of community pharmacy.  People already equate us with commodities brokers.  Will they expect to pick up their blood pressure medication for $1 if the pharmacy happens to be located inside a Deal$?  One can’t help but assume that a chain of retailers that has a dollar sign incorporated in their name will only be concerned with providing a product at the lowest cost possible.  And if that is the case, this will be a negative for community pharmacy. 

        Then again there is only one of these pharmacies planned right now.  Maybe the idea will fail and the experiment will soon be forgotten?  But what if that locations thrives and the idea is expanded by Dollar Tree? Is this a good thing for all of us who work in retail pharmacies? 

        Community pharmacy is already in the middle of a heated pricing war.  Between $4 generic lists and transfer coupons, pharmacies are not only begging people to shop at their location- they are paying them to do it.  I can’t help but assume that the addition of pharmacies inside dollar stores will only pour gasoline on that fire. 

         The resulting casualties of a pricing war and razor thin margins thanks to low reimbursement rates is customer service and staffing.  I worry that Dollar Tree will fall into the trap of having bare-bones staffing to make up for margins they simply can’t realize operating pharmacies inside their stores.   And patient perception matters too.  What will patients and customers who shop at this pharmacy think about that pharmacy?  What expectations will they have regarding drug prices or wait times?  This could be a set-up for failure. 

       Maybe I’m reading too much into a little story out of Florida?  Maybe this idea will fizzle out and we won’t hear about it again in say six months or so?  What do you think?  Is this a good idea?  Is this just another sign of the times for community pharmacy?  Would you shop for your prescription needs at a dollar store?  What do you think? 

The Redheaded Pharmacist

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