PHARMACY

Indies rated tops in satisfaction survey

BY Jim Frederick

WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. —U.S. consumers are paying more heed to the cost of medicines, health-and-beauty aids and other drug store products in an era of economic uncertainty and joblessness. But in the perennial battle for customer loyalty, service still is king, and independent, owner-operated community pharmacies still rule.

That’s the fundamental lesson retailers can take from the latest customer satisfaction survey from J.D. Power and Associates. The big research and consulting firm unveiled the results of its 2010 U.S. National Pharmacy Study Sept. 21.

The study includes chain drug stores, supermarkets and mass merchandisers. Researchers polled customers about five key factors that contribute to customer satisfaction with brick-and-mortar pharmacies: prescription ordering and pickup process, the store shopping experience, cost competitiveness, nonpharmacist staff and pharmacists.

The study, based on a poll of more than 12,300 pharmacy customers in May and June, underscored the growing concerns Americans have with the cost of their pharmaceuticals and other health products. “As consumers shoulder more healthcare expenses, cost increasingly drives overall customer satisfaction with pharmacies,” noted the company in its report.

Nevertheless, added the report, personalized, above-and-beyond service still outweighs price for a majority of consumers. “Customer service still trumps price, even in an environment where cost has become increasingly important,” said Jim Dougherty, J.D. Power’s director of the healthcare practice. “Pharmacies that are focused on service garner the highest levels of satisfaction.”

That’s good news for small-scale, owner-operated independent pharmacies. It’s also good news for the Big Three drug wholesale giants that operate the three major networks of independents, franchised and otherwise, that scored top rankings in the poll.

Again this year, survey respondents ranked independents tops in overall satisfaction. “The independents and those companies that are focused on service are considerably higher [in customer satisfaction rates] than the larger stores,” Dougherty said.

Customers gave their highest scores to Good Neighbor Pharmacy, the 3,700-store group of independents that operate under the buying, merchandising and store-support umbrella provided by distribution and health services giant AmerisourceBergen. “That’s the first year that they have been a ranked brand in the study,” Dougherty said in a conference call with reporters.

The two largest groups of independent-owned franchises, McKesson Corp.’s Health Mart and Cardinal Health’s Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy, ranked second and third, respectively, in overall satisfaction rankings. But Walgreens rated a strong fourth, making it tops among corporate-owned drug store chains in customer rankings.

“One of the things that jumps out at us this year is we see a 31-point increase in Walgreens, and a drop of 8 points in Duane Reade,” Dougherty said, referring to the New York-based regional drug store chain purchased earlier this year by Walgreens. “It is not uncommon when there is a merger or acquisition in place that there would be some negative impact in customer satisfaction, even with the acquiring company. So this is unusual and a positive that Walgreens is seeing that increase.”

Among mass merchants, Target’s pharmacy operation got highest satisfcation marks for the fourth year in a row, while Publix rated tops among supermarket pharmacies. Supermarkets in general have seen steady improvements in satisfaction scores, Dougherty said.

Efforts to give the best possible service pay off, both in additional revenues and in measurable customer loyalty. Highly satisfied customers can bring in an additional $227 each year in prescription business, researchers found. What’s more, J.D. Powers reported, “brick-and-mortar pharmacy customers who are highly satisfied…are more than three times more likely to say they ‘definitely will’ return to their pharmacy, and 10 times more likely to say they ‘definitely will’ recommend their pharmacy to others, compared [with] customers with low satisfaction levels.”

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At his last analyst day, Ryan sets out course for future CVS Caremark

BY Antoinette Alexander

NEW YORK The theme of CVS Caremark’s 2010 analyst meeting held Friday morning here in New York was “Enhancing Shareholder Value.” And that was appropriate as the company used the morning to brief Wall Street on how it plans to lead the industry for years to come in pharmacy services and health care, as well as in the front end of the business, thanks to several recently introduced and upcoming initiatives.

One could say the meeting was a special event, marking the last analyst meeting for chairman and CEO Tom Ryan, who will retire as CEO in May 2011, after 36 years with the company. (As previously reported, Larry Merlo has been named president and COO, and is expected to succeed Ryan as CEO.)

America’s healthcare challenge is opportunity 

Ryan kicked off the meeting with a look at some of the healthcare challenges facing the country — all of which represent opportunities for CVS Caremark to demonstrate its leadership in expanding the role of pharmacy.

It is no secret that healthcare costs are rising rapidly, and chronic diseases are on the rise among Americans, Ryan explained. “We have to find a way to deal with this more cost-effectively and more efficiently as a country. Why do we think this is a big opportunity for us? We think this is going to improve our mail-choice business; we think this will improve our MinuteClinic business; we think this is going to drive pharmacy business growth over the next 10 years,” Ryan told analysts.

Ryan also noted the concern over a shortage of primary care physicians, which only stands to get worse as the population ages and more than 30 million Americans gain coverage through healthcare reform.

One area CVS Caremark will look to demonstrate its leadership in is medication nonadherence, which is a nearly $300 billion annual drain on U.S. health care. Nonadherence is a preventable cost, and CVS Caremark is working to help payers drive down that cost, Ryan said.

Enter such innovative offerings as CustomeRx Savings Initiative, Maintenance Choice and Pharmacy Advisor. Through such programs and the leverage of its broad-reaching network, which includes its PBM, MinuteClinic business and retail locations, the company is working to improve outcomes and reduce costs.

For example, its CustomeRx Savings Initiative aims to improve patient’s lives by advocating lower-cost treatment options whenever possible. It is estimated that this year alone, pharmacy interventions will save patients $50 million in out-of-pocket costs by filling scripts for lower-cost alternatives.

“The legislation that was recently passed certainly solves the access [problem], but what has to come has to be a greater focus on both quality and cost,” Merlo added. “Our integrated assets have the unique ability to offer innovative, high-quality, practical solutions that accomplish three things: provide greater access, convenience and choice to pharmacy care; deliver solutions that improve the health of those we serve; and lower the overall cost of health care.”

CVS Caremark also is looking to pharmacogenomics, or genetic benefit management, to drive improved health outcomes and help mitigate costs.

Per Lofberg, president of Caremark Pharmacy Services, discussed how the company is “building the PBM for the next decade.” Clearly, a key factor here is the 12-year collaboration it recently inked with Aetna. As reported, CVS Caremark announced in late July a 12-year agreement with Aetna to provide PBM services to roughly 9.7 million Aetna PBM members and administer about $9.5 billion in annual drug spend, a deal that is believed to be the largest and longest new-term contract ever to have been negotiated in the PBM industry.

“The Aetna deal is clearly a watershed for our company, and actually for the industry as a whole. It was the result of an extensive and exhaustive competitive bidding process, which we obviously view as a significant validation of our integrated model and economics that we can bring to the table, as a result,” Lofberg said. He also noted that the deal is expected to leverage the full-spectrum capabilities of CVS retail, the PBM and MinuteClinic offerings.

In the stores 

Of course, with so much focus on other parts of the company, certainly CVS/pharmacy ( i.e., the stores) and the front-end of its business still remain a key component of the company’s future growth plans.

Discussing front-end sales and profitability was Mike Bloom, EVP merchandising and supply chain. According to Bloom, such innovations as store clustering, store brands, its ExtraCare loyalty program and beauty are a big part of the company’s strategic plan.

As reported by Drug Store News, CVS took the wraps off its Urban Cluster store concept, which has a significant focus on consumables and is designed to be a convenient shopping destination for urban dwellers. The company expected to have 300 of its stores converted to the concept by the end of the year, and a total of 1,300 to 1,400 stores reset to the concept over the next few years.

With regard to store brands, the retailer expects its private-label penetration to grow to more than 20% in the next two to three years. To drive that growth and take a leadership role in private label, CVS went back to the old drawing board. The result is a whole new private-label program the company plans to introduce early next year.

“The first thing we did is we conducted customer focus groups where we identified the need for an opening price point value brand. We then defined that the brand would consist of everyday essential products that would help get her through her day,” Bloom explained. Enter Just The Basics, which will launch in February 2011 with more than 100 items. The brand represents a functional, value-priced, smart simplicity positioning.

Turning to beauty, a $3 billion business at CVS, the company is leveraging the success of its Healthy Skincare Center concept and has launched a pilot of a smaller format that will enable it to expand the department into more of its stores, Bloom said.

It addition, it will launch in January an ExtraCare Beauty Club, under which customers will receive a 10% “shopping pass” for signing up, $5 in Extra Bucks for each $50 spent on beauty and $3 in Extra Bucks on cardholders’ birthdays.

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Roche buys rights for danoprevir from InterMune

BY Alaric DeArment

BASEL, Switzerland Swiss drug maker Roche has bought the rights to an investigative treatment for hepatitis C, Roche said.

 

The company announced Thursday that it had purchased global development and commercialization rights to the drug RG7227/ITMN-191 (danoprevir) from InterMune for $175 million.

 

 

Roche said the drug had shown promise in preclinical and early clinical development. The two companies have been developing the drug since 2006.

 

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