As life expectancy rises, people are increasingly seeking skilled nursing and assisted living facilities for either themselves or their aging parents. Over the next 10 years, the aging baby boom population could spur a 50% increase in the number of older Americans (ages 65+) requiring long-term care (LTC), climbing to an estimated 1.9 million seniors by 2030.
The growing demand for long-term care means LTC pharmacies have an opportunity to take on a larger role in managing the clinical needs of their patients. To accommodate the increase in patients and keep pace with the industry, LTC pharmacies should consider the steps they can take to move from simply managing to actively growing their business by streamlining internal processes, providing educational resources for staff members, optimizing their products and services and creating a plan for the future of their business.
Before taking steps to grow the business, LTC pharmacies need to ensure they are operating with solid fundamentals in place. Simply verifying a pharmacy’s internal processes for receiving and filling orders are streamlined can create a considerable improvement in operational efficiency.
That said, automation is also a significant driver of efficiency, and pharmacies should assess whether they have the right balance of technology and human intervention to fit their needs. That may include implementing radio frequency identification (RFID) automation to facilitate inventory management or robotics systems for packaging and dispensing medications to help reduce manual tasks and ensure accuracy. Given automation systems can be a substantial expense for a pharmacy, it’s important to calculate the anticipated return on investment before implementing a new system. For example, time saved on manual tasks as a result of automation can be viewed as time returned to pharmacy staff to focus on business growth initiatives, and a reduction in human errors can produce significant cost savings overall.
Another foundational necessity is ensuring staff members are fully educated on the nuances of the LTC setting and empowered to provide best-in-class customer service. It may be helpful to pursue dedicated training and develop internal handbooks to ensure new and existing staff members are consistently trained and prepared to take ownership of the day-to-day responsibilities.
Pharmacies seeking to expand must have thoughtful and comprehensive business plans that outline a vision for the future and the steps to get there. A well-prepared business plan allows pharmacies to create leverage with lenders to secure the financial backing needed to grow. Funding can be used to purchase and implement tools that will effectively position the pharmacy for growth, such as additional or upgraded automation systems, new hires and further training for staff members.
With the fundamentals firmly in place, LTC pharmacies can shift their focus to expansion. With an aging patient population on the rise, LTC pharmacies should be prepared for significant competition from large chains and retail pharmacies looking to expand their customer base and serve LTC facilities. In order to maintain a competitive edge, there needs to be a mind-set shift that puts a renewed focus on effectively marketing the pharmacy to LTC facilities. Since LTC pharmacies are not typically marketing themselves in traditional ways, pharmacists may not be comfortable with promoting themselves to potential customers.
Word of mouth can be powerful in the LTC setting, so pharmacies should be prepared to leverage existing relationships to make new connections. For this reason, it is beneficial to have a presence on the State Board of Pharmacy in the area, which provides ample opportunity for pharmacists to network and raise their profile among peers and regional decision-makers. A dynamic website and active social media channels also act as effective marketing tools. They can showcase the breadth and quality of a pharmacy’s services while also validating those claims through case studies and positive customer reviews.
As a strategy for growth, pharmacies can differentiate themselves from their competition by expanding the products and services they provide. Offering several types of packaging options can attract new customers, as well. Furthermore, the importance of exceptional, personalized customer service cannot be overlooked. Pharmacies that accommodate last-minute order changes and provide flexible delivery options build stronger relationships with customers and caregivers. When caregivers successfully transition their patients to a new facility or organization and have positive experiences with their pharmacy partners, they are more likely to advocate for those relationships, which creates the potential for new business wins.
The projected growth in LTC services in the coming years presents a tremendous opportunity for LTC pharmacies to grow their business and assume a larger role in patient care. Pharmacies that have the proper support systems, business plans, and a commitment to high-quality customer service are in a great position to pursue new contracts and grow their revenue.
 Population Reference Bureau. Fact Sheet: Aging in the United States. 2019.
Brenda Axe is vice president of the Long-Term Care segment at AmerisourceBergen, a leading distribution and pharmaceutical services company.