Tuesday, November 9, 2010

This Free Antibiotic Bullshit Has to End

I'm so sick and tired of free antibiotics. It is the most pointless promotion in business history. ALL BUSINESS. I'm not even talking about just pharmacy here. I challenge you to come up with a dumber business strategy than handing out free antibiotics.

Free antibiotics have not increased our script volume. They have not increased our sales of OTC medication. They have not brought in new loyal pharmacy customers. The only thing they have accomplished is decreasing our gross margin.

It hasn't even made our community healthier. If anything, we've jeopardized public health by promoting wide spread use of antibiotics when not really necessary, which could in turn increase the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

I've hated this program the entire time we've been running it. However, the tipping point was last Friday when I heard the store manager bitching about my flu shot table. You see... I have a table set up in front of the pharmacy where I set up all the stuff I need to give flu shots. While I'm working at the pharmacy, I keep a flu shot sign, a box of gloves, bandaids, and gauze pads on the table. I used to keep the sharps container there too, but the store manager said it could be a safety hazard, so I now keep it behind the pharmacy counter and carry it out with me whenever I have to give a shot.

The store manager never really liked my flu shot table from the start. However, the company was actively promoting flu shots and had signs up all over the store, so he didn't really contest its presence. Apparently, my employer thinks that the end of October marks the end up flu season, and it pulled pretty much all of the flu shot advertisements. The new signs that went up were all promoting the free antibiotic program.

Since the flu shot signs came down, my store manager thought that it would be a great time to voice his disapproval of the table. On Friday, he asked how much longer it would be there and complained that it was just taking up space in front of the pharmacy (as if they were going to use it for something more constructive).

This seriously pisses me off. The store goes all out promoting this moronic free antibiotic program that does nothing but piss away money. However, when it comes to flu shots that actually net us a very decent profit, it can't wait until I stop giving them. To reiterate, the store promotes a program that can endanger the public by spurring the growth of resistant organisms, but it pushes aside a program that helps to prevent illness and saves the health care system money.

As much as I disagree with my employer's policy on free antibiotics and the rampant use of gift cards to promote the pharmacy, my store manager is the one that really draws my ire. He's such an arrogant bastard. He constantly wants to know what our sales numbers look like for the week, and if we report a low figure to him, he acts like it's because we're just not working hard enough. It's our fault we're not generating a lot of revenue. It has nothing to do with the company's policy of giving our most popular drugs away for free.

Last week, we actually did fairly well sales-wise. Upon hearing our figures, he sarcastically applauded us and couldn't resist mockingly saying, "it must be all the flu shots."

Fuck you, you arrogant prick. What have you done that's so fucking great? From my view point, you mostly stock shelves all day, and just like every other store manager we've ever had, you'll only be around for another 5 or 6 months before corporate ships you off to another store. Store managers are a dime a dozen. They're entire job is to make the store look neat and to otherwise act as a bitch to the corporate offices. They don't think on their own. They don't enact policies or promotions. They just follow orders.

Therefore, this glorified grunt worker mocking my professional services is a real fucking joke. I haven't given out a ton of flu shots in the grand scheme of things, but I am over 100 for the season so far. That's over $1,500 of pure profit that only I could bring in. There are no other immunizers in my store. It's just me, and if it weren't for my flu shot table, that $1,500 would be in Walgreens' or CVS's pocket and not ours. Maybe it's not a lot, but it's more profit than our current store manager has ever been solely responsible for producing.

Since, I'm back on the subject of profits, let me further illustrate how ridiculous these free antibiotic and $4 generic programs are. They're actually amazing in that at the same time they are decreasing our profit margins, they are increasing drug prices. Yes, that's correct. Instead of making drugs more affordable for patients, they are actually raising costs (and decreasing the quality of pharmacy services I might add).

North Dakota has a law that stipulates that all pharmacies must be majority-owned by a licensed pharmacist. Obviously, CVS, Walgreens, and the other major chains don't like this law because it excludes them from opening pharmacies in North Dakota. Therefore, they've attacked the law saying that North Dakota is depriving its residents of the cheaper drug prices that the major chains can provide (in the form of $4 generics and free antibiotics).

Well, in January 2009, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance showed this not to be true. In fact, it concluded that repealing the law "would cost the state millions of dollars in annual economic activity and tax revenue, dramatically reduce the number of pharmacies serving rural areas, and degrade the overall quality of pharmacy services in the state."

Among the report’s key findings is that rural areas of the state have far more pharmacies and greater access to these vital health care services than is found in other states. Census tracts with 2,001-3,500 people in North Dakota are 31% more likely to have a pharmacy than those in South Dakota. And, while only one-quarter of census tracts with 1,001– 2,000 people in South Dakota have a pharmacy, nearly half of those in North Dakota do.

The report also mentioned how North Dakota has prescription prices that are well below the national average, and how repealing the law would result in a net loss of $23 million per year in direct economic benefits.

The moral of the story is that maybe big chain pharmacies should reconsider their pricing habits considering the one place in this country that doesn't make a habit of giving shit away for free is the one providing the best care and making decent profits at the same time.

Baby steps though. Let's start slow. Just get rid of the stupid free antibiotics.


Anonymous said...

Yes! Ditch the free abx and give most of those people tincture of time. I can't count the number of times I've heard "I had a sinus infection so I called the doc for a z-pak" when a box of PSE, OTC analgesic of choice and two-three more days would have cleared up that "sinus infection". Do more cultures before handing out the "candy".

RxBoy said...

My company also gives away the free antibiotics. I agree that it has done little or nothing to increase sales at our store. All it has done is caused a large increase in people who use other pharmacies coming to us to get their antibiotics since they are free here. Many of them flat out tell us that. When I am creating their new patient profile they refuse to give me their insurance information, telling me that they are only here for the free antibiotic.

It also causes many incidents of angry people at the counter when they come back to pick up their antibiotic. There is a list of about 25 or so antibiotics that we give away for free. The problem is that many doctors and many of our competitor pharmacies tell people to bring their antibiotic prescription to us because it will be free, but many times the antibiotic they have been prescribed is not on our free list. The customer acts like this is our fault.

I had a lady just the other day come into pick up an antibiotic that was $79. She got upset with me and told me that her doctor said it would be free if she came here. I apologized to her (even though I had no need to) and told her that the doctor had given her incorrect information. She acted like we should be expected to give it to her just because a third party unrelated to us told her it would be free. This happens all the time.

Anonymous said...

It will end. As soon as the next gimmick pops up.

Mark my words. In your corporate boardrooms right now are the whisperings of free maintanence meds. Specifically it will be your free diabetic/cv/you name it med.

Reason: Wally world and like mass merchants need incentive to drive market share/sales in a world where they have already devoured most competition. As baby boomers age they want to capture the dollar wherever can be had. Pharmacy as you know is nothing but a front end loss leader. What better way to get a main streem population (boomers) in to the store than offering generic drugs at no cost (totally legal for those of you who say you can't sell drugs at less than cost).

Bottom line is that you will see mass merchants squeeze the traditional drug stores for sales of non pharmacy goods.

Mike, your cause is noble but you need to see the big picture here. Your $1500 is a rounding error on most retailers books. What your manager sees as an inconvenient table of flu shots is the fact that he could probably sell some bullshit vitamins/razorblades/chinese chritmas gifts/etc rather tahn your $15 flu shot.

Bottom line is that pharmacy as you thought you knew it is over. Pharmacists are 1 step away from being obsolete. Ask a Walgreens pharmacist about their wonderful "power" program which requires only a central pharmacist to fill prescriptions.

We are a dying breed. I hope those of you young enough have found other avenues to "practice".


Good lord please don't steer your kids into this sad/dying profession.

online pharmacy reviews said...

I guess pharmacy companies treat their products like cookies. Like a "free taste" can lure in more loyal customers.

- Jessica Greer

Anonymous said...

I am fine with answering to pharmacy director, medical director, head clinical nursing director, etc BUT answering to/taking shit from some junior college storefront turd is not in the cards.

When I think about the difference in respect, appreciation, patient interaction, clinical knowledge application, teaching, professional development, research, peer interaction, and improved patient care between my specialty hospital rotation and my retail rotation I realize there is no way I could ever go into chain pharmacy.
Do not get me wrong I love the community pharmacist role when it is practiced passionately in an independent pharmacy setting! But when it comes to retail chain pharmacy it is flat out depressing, I can not figure out why anyone would want to go through all that school to spend their career in retail pharmacy.

I hope they make a difference and change the way chain pharmacy is practiced but that is wishful thinking...

Anonymous said...

We need the Pharmacy Board of each state to pass the law to prohibit the stupid programs such as free antibiotic or solicitating phone calls,etc. for refill request overdue for profit driven chain drug stores or mass merchandizers-reminder post cards are more personabl in my opinion.
We desperately need reform the pharmacists and tech. hours needed to actual medication counseling is needed for every patient's refills and new prescriptions set by the Board of Pharmacy and make it a law so the chain drug/mass mercandizers wouldn't interfere with the Best Pharmacy Practice for public health and safety.

Chemist Direct said...

This promotions are made to make product visible in the eyes of audience and ultimately sell them. This is a kind of marketing which every pharmacy company does. So it depends upon us whether to take or no because even if it is free we are taking antibiotic which might affect our body