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The majority of pharmacies in the United States now offer vaccinations, but there is still a significant opportunity to turn a well-run vaccination program into a profitable
endeavor that benefits both patient and pharmacy.
Many adults still fail to get the recommended vaccinations each year. According to the CDC, just 37.1% of adults received the flu vaccine during the 2017-2018 flu season. This presents a significant opportunity for independent pharmacies to improve these numbers by expanding their immunization efforts, marketing their programs to the community, and relying on what makes a pharmacy a unique health care setting.
“Pharmacies have a huge advantage right off the bat of being readily available and accessible,” said Beverly Schaeffer, RPh, of Katterman’s Sandpoint Pharmacy in Seattle, WA.
Katterman’s was one of the first to offer vaccines—starting their program back in 1996. Schaeffer said the pharmacy had been hoping to give 300 vaccines but found themselves administering 1,200. Since then, the program has continued to grow and the pharmacy now offers all available vaccines in the state and can even administer to children and infants.
“All pharmacists could be doing more immunizations than they are if they wanted to,” she said.
Expanding immunization efforts can not only improve public health, but it can also serve as an increased revenue stream for community pharmacies. Close to 100 million Americans get the flu shot each year, translating to $4 billion to $5 billion in revenue, PBA Health reported.
Immunizations outside the influenza vaccine can often bring in even larger administration fees for pharmacies. “Almost all immunizations pay an administration fee that varies from plan to plan, but you get paid for the vaccine plus an administration fee,” Schaeffer said.
Vincent Hartzell, PharmD, president of Hartzell’s Pharmacy in Catasauqua, PA, said successful immunization programs not only provide revenue for a pharmacy on their own, but they also often drive other areas of business. “Vaccines have allowed us to provide marketing and attract new customers,” he said.
The most effective marketing strategies, he said, don’t always have to be costly and can be as simple as an effective social media post, informing local physicians and area senior centers of the pharmacy’s immunization services, or using banners and signs.
Schaeffer has found one of her best marketing tools is a sandwich board placed outside the pharmacy each day that highlights different services such as its tetanus shots, travel vaccines, or the highly sought-after shingles vaccine.
Her pharmacy does a significant amount of business in travel vaccines, so she also tries to drive other store business through a separate travel aisle where customers can find everything needed for an upcoming trip; anti-diarrhea medications, rehydration packets, eye drops, all in one convenient area.
Hartzell believes it’s important that all the pharmacists in a community pharmacy be trained to give immunizations so that there is always an available staff member whenever a customer arrives at the store.
To improve the workflow, he said, non-pharmacist staff should also be a critical aspect of vaccination programs. Those workers should have ways to identify patients who may be behind on immunizations or could benefit from annual vaccines such as influenza and pneumococcal vaccines.
“Make sure that your technicians know how to do the billing, make sure your technicians know how to fill out the consent forms because that’s the stuff that you don’t need a pharmacist for,” he said.
Overall, Schaeffer and Hartzell agreed, successful vaccination programs can yield big rewards for community pharmacies and their patients.
About the Author
Drug Topics is the leading pharmacy journal for retail, health system and specialty pharmacists. Drop Topics provides news, information and trusted perspectives through peer-based forums and opinions, relative to all aspects of pharmacy practice and also offers direction on elevating your profession and career. Check it all out at drugtopics.com.