We all know why the large retail pharmacy chains like auto refill systems. But do these programs really help the chains? Do they even help patients?
Chains love auto refill programs about as much as they like metrics. In fact, auto refill percentages is one of the statistics that chains love to track.
Does such a program help patients remember to pick up or take maintenance medications? Do these programs help the drugstore?
Retail pharmacies are in quite a dilemma. Promotion after promotion they attempt is simply duplicated by competitors. Pharmacies want to find sources of consistent and predictable prescription volumes. They also want to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Retail pharmacies operate in an environment where the power has shifted away from healthcare providers towards the insurance industry. Pharmacies are being forced into looking for any way possible to gain and retain steady prescription business to offset lower margins and poor reimbursement rates. They also want to try and prevent as many patients as possible from transferring to other pharmacies.
Enter the auto refill program. The idea is to make it convenient for patients by automatically filling maintenance medications for patients at a set interval. Patients only have to come pick up their refills on a set schedule. The pharmacy gets a steady source of revenue and everyone is theoretically happy. Patients no longer have to request the same refills month after month. It all sounds great in theory.
There is one little problem. It’s not that simple. Patients forget to pick up their medications. Allogations surface that companies enroll patients without their consent. Sometimes patients end up with too much of a medication because it’s constantly being filled too early. Implementation hasn’t exactly matched expectations for these auto refill programs.
Pharmacies are desperate to prevent or minimize losing pharmacy customers to either a competitor down the street or a mail-order pharmacy elsewhere. And in these desperate times to maintain prescription business, ideas such as auto refill programs are born.
If the major pharmacy chains really want to stabilize prescription volume and revenue, they’d better start fighting pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) and the insurance industry. Attempting to minimize mandatory mail-order plans or fighting for higher reimbursement rates and dispensing fees will go a lot further to help community pharmacy than any auto refill program.
Auto refills can’t be your only answer in the search for steady revenue and profits. If anything, these programs create more work, more waste, and more confusion among your loyal customer base. And do they even do anything to help patient compliance with maintenance medications? At least a compliance boost would justify the programs.
There are customers that use and enjoy auto refill services. And for them, it’s a nice touch that their local pharmacy provides.
Feel free to keep auto refill programs available for all those patients that do use and appreciate them. Just don’t think these programs are something they’re not. They will not be the answer to mandatory mail order plans, preferred provider networks, and other insurance developments that limit patient choices and hinder an open market in the community pharmacy setting.
Don’t expect auto refills to be the whole answer to all of community pharmacy’s growth problems. If this business was that simple, we would have created auto refill programs a long time ago.
The Redheaded Pharmacist