While financial results indicate that community pharmacy fared relatively well in terms of gross profit compared to other retail sectors and healthcare providers, the costs of the ongoing pandemic have been high, noted presenters at the virtual Pharmacy Forum event hosted by the Canadian Foundation for Pharmacy (CFP) on February 17.
“In the end, most of the gains were negated by additional costs, both fiscal and emotional,” said Max Beairsto, a business valuation analyst at EVCOR, a CFP board member and a former pharmacy owner.
“What cannot be exaggerated is what a hard time this has been for staff,” said Bruce Winston, president of Apex Pharmacies, which operates 20 pharmacies in Alberta.
Staff welfare was the overriding concern for Winston and the other pharmacy owners participating in CFP’s panel discussion. At the same time, they praised their employees for repeatedly stepping up to challenge after challenge.
Getting ready for COVID vaccinations
Winston wistfully recalled the time when “we used to be the most anxious during the week leading up to flu shots.” Today his pharmacies are getting ready for COVID vaccinations and everyone appears to be taking it in stride.
“Pharmacy is going to embrace this but we have to be very careful about what that means for our staff and the tremendous load that’s going to be on them. My takeaway from the past year is the need to put a lot of planning into these kind of black swan events,” said Winston.
Technology has been a huge enabler for Ryan Fullerton, owner of four pharmacies in Ontario, including Brown’s Guardian Pharmacy in Walkerton. For example, an internet-based phone system and cloud faxing have enabled staff (mostly non-pharmacists) to work from home. In terms of workflow, the pandemic kick-started advance refills in his pharmacies. “Patients have been really good about getting on a schedule,” said Fullerton.
Medication reconciliation was already in place at Howe Sound Pharmacy in Gibsons, B.C., and owner Chris Juozaitis noted that “that workflow helped us get through some of the really tough parts.”
The pharmacy’s investment in cross training over the past few years also “really came into fruition.” When staff had to take sick days or isolate at home, “cross training really helped us to be able to shift our personnel around the pharmacy to fill those positions that needed filling that day,” said Juozaitis.
Mike Jaczko, portfolio manager and partner at KJ Harrison and a former pharmacy owner, advised pharmacy owners to put a mitigation strategy in place. Massive government debt due to COVID-19 will have large implications for businesses. Increased taxation at personal and corporate levels as well as even more acute pressures to contain healthcare costs could have a “trifecta” impact on pharmacy profitability.
“Now is a good time to double back with your accounting and financial planners and corporate legal counsel to look at current tax planning and current [operating] infrastructure,” said Jaczko.
He also emphasized the need to maximize operational efficiencies, in part by investing in technologies, and to take a closer look at opportunities in the frontshop. Particularly in rural or bedroom communities, where there is heightened awareness to support local businesses, “there are tremendous opportunities to develop and evolve your frontstore. You can compete.”
CFP’s next Pharmacy Forum, which will focus on the use of technology, including an update on the implementation of PrescribeIT across the country (Canada Health Infoway’s e-prescribing platform), will occur in the spring.