The retail pharmacy industry in the United States is facing some of its greatest challenges in decades. Concerns over burnout, understaffing, and medication errors are prominent throughout the workforce, and were present even before the pharmacy became a frontline effort during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Additionally, retail pharmacies have been expanding their care services beyond dispensing medication, such as vaccinations and minor injuries or infections. According to the Wolters Kluwer Pharmacy Next consumer survey, 58% of Americans are likely to seek non-emergency care at pharmacies, with Millennials and Gen Z leading the way – an indication that these trends are here to stay. Leaders need to find solutions for the acute challenges happening right now as well as the long-term strategies to ensure industry success and better customer care.
1. Rising prescription drug costs
Rising prescription costs, medication dispensing costs, and declining reimbursement rates are putting financial pressure on retail pharmacies. Between July 2021 and July 2022, the list prices on more than 1,200 prescription drugs rose faster than inflation, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Not surprisingly, 37% of Americans have chosen not to fill a prescription because of cost according to the Pharmacy Next survey. Finding ways to reduce these cost pressures, such as streamlining workflows with tools, will be necessary for retail pharmacies.
2. Healthcare staffing shortages
Pharmacies across the industry are facing staffing shortages as they try to keep up with the increased prescriptions and non-emergency care services. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 6% drop in retail pharmacists between 2019 and 2021, and while those numbers have rebounded a bit, staffing challenges still remain.
Additionally, pharmacy schools are reporting low application numbers, plummeting nearly 70% from the fall of 2009 to the fall of 2021, creating a long-term challenge in supplying the industry with enough pharmacists to fill these staffing gaps. Leaders need to identify opportunities to help alleviate current staff workloads to ensure retention and job satisfaction.
3. Pharmacist burnout and industry fatigue
Staffing shortages in retail pharmacy are exacerbating the greater issue of clinician burnout and fatigue, which is observed across the healthcare industry. As Covid-19 transformed retail pharmacies into centers for vaccinations and non-emergency care, pharmacists are reporting working conditions are more stressful now than before the pandemic.
Some retail pharmacists and technicians have even taken the additional step of walking out in protest, and with burnout comes added risk to patient safety and medication dispensing. The Pharmacy Next survey showed 97% of Americans believe a pharmacist should have the responsibility of informing them about the safety or effectiveness of their medications – an overworked clinical staff may struggle to keep up with these customer needs, impacting safety. Pharmacy leaders need to find ways of alleviating the day-to-day stresses and administrative burdens so pharmacists can safely dispense medication and help keep patients safe.
4. Demands for an enhanced patient experience
Customers are demanding a better, more personalized experience across their care journey and the pharmacy is no exception. But with retail pharmacies closing doors, the industry is facing a shrinking footprint which will impact that care experience as well as access to medication, impacting the most vulnerable patients. With fewer locations and burned-out pharmacists, the care experience will suffer, leading to long-term customer loyalty challenges. Understanding the balance between meeting customer needs and supporting clinical staff to successfully meet these needs will be crucial for leaders in the future.
Preparing for the future of pharmacy
With these challenges persisting and the industry evolving, health leaders have an opportunity to provide relief in the present and plan for the pharmacy of the future. Evidence-based clinical solutions can support pharmacy leaders and their staff through aligned content and advanced medication decision making. By embracing new opportunities like patient education materials, preventative care access, and social determinants to better address local communities, leaders with a future-ready mindset can prepare and support their teams for the next stage in retail pharmacy.
Get the six strategies retail pharmacies should consider in our whitepaper “Creating a future-ready pharmacy: Challenges and opportunities.”