“Don’t take a management position in pharmacy; you’ll be responsible for so many metrics and business reports.”

Pharmacists everywhere have long since feared the overwhelming burden of fiscal responsibility over their stores. The pain of having their autonomy removed and having to submit to the will of corporate higher-ups.

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This is especially true for new graduates who fear being inadequate as a clinician, let alone a business owner responsible for millions of dollars in inventory and profit.

It’s quite normal to be afraid of the unknown or to let the opinions and experiences of the downtrodden sway your professional aspirations. But could there be more to the story?

The Bane of Our Existence

If you work for a pharmacy corporation, there will be business analytics for every step of workflow. From how quickly you type to how long it takes you to answer the phone to how many patients felt they were offered a flu shot. Corporations invest so much into reporting, it’s crazy to think we can use all of it. 

The premise behind having all this information relates to power. Imagine if you owned a lemonade stand, hoping to turn a profit. 

If you knew that you used 5 lemons each day Monday through Friday, yet 20 lemons on Saturday and Sunday, you now have the power to capitalize on opportunity. You could staff better to accommodate more lemonade production on the weekends. You could contract with suppliers to give you better purchasing rates on Saturday and Sunday. Maybe it even makes sense to close every other Monday and open longer hours on the weekend.

The point is that with more information, business owners thrive and have options to change behaviors to optimize their profit and working conditions. They have the power to drive results however they see fit.

However, when it comes to the corporate pharmacy, the business owners vary in skill, experience, and philosophy. A Regional Director can oversee hundreds of pharmacies businesses, whereas a Pharmacy Manager oversees one. But these are two business owners just the same. 

Why Do Some Pharmacists Hate Metrics?

As clinicians, we aim to treat conditions, prevent illness, empower and educate our patients, and to save lives. That’s why we take the Pharmacist’s Oath.

But in retail pharmacy, certain pharmacy leaders do not lead with that purpose. Instead, they lead with business first, healthcare purpose last. Sometimes, dead last. And that is simply not how most pharmacists like to operate.

Imagine that while trying to verify a thousand prescriptions per day, you get a phone call from your boss telling you to increase your flu shot results. Your store results just aren’t up to par with last year’s performance. You’re already stressed out of your mind trying not to create a dispensing error.

After getting off the phone, you grudgingly ask the next 5 people to get their flu shot. As a pharmacist, you wholeheartedly believe in immunizations, but this new “action plan” wasn’t your idea. Worst of all, the purpose behind the nagging phone call is profit, none of which benefits you.

Now, imagine all the reporting tools available for customer service surveys, counseling logs, inventory processes, and other corporate-driven programs. Imagine how annoying a profit-driven leader can be on this larger scale. Breathing down your neck, telling you how to do your job, and squealing how important profit and loss are.

Retail Pharmacy is Both Business and Healthcare

The saying goes, “In Retail Pharmacy, ‘Retail’ comes first.” We are a retail business AND a pharmacy. But we cannot have one without the other. Stephen Covey, one of the greatest business leaders, says, “if there is no margin, there is no mission.” We need to profit in order to continue delivering amazing healthcare.

Successful Corporate PharmD’s accept that we have dual responsibilities which are equally important: Business and Healthcare responsibilities. If we aren’t cognizant of how much money we are making or losing, how do we know if we can keep the lights on for another year? The Corporate PharmD understands that he is running a multi-million dollar business without using any personal funds. Therefore, a pharmacist leader must realize it is his privilege to own and run any pharmacy business as if it were his own.

And if it were his own business, he needs all the help he can get. Business analytics help with things like root cause analysis and setting financial goals. How difficult would it be if business owners had to track every metric with paper and pen during the day to day grind? Can you imagine how being audited by Board of Pharmacy or the DEA without diagnostics and tools would feel? How lucky we are to work under the roof of so much privilege and protection.

So how do we use reporting and metrics to improve our patients’ lives and our own working conditions? How should we lead our teams and drive the right behaviors to fully engage and inspire?

Lead with Heart and Purpose

Instead of being nagged, pestered, and micro-managed around metrics, ask yourself, “Why are the metrics important?”

What if the reporting and diagnostic tools available were sources of recognition and praise? What if the business analytics painted only part of the picture, and the business owners filled in the rest?

Reports are like lab values; they only give you a snapshot of one organ or organ system’s performance. As pharmacy students, we are taught and drilled to memorize normal limits and guidelines, only to learn that understanding real life pathophysiology requires us to see the sum of all parts. This same principle applies to business operations. No one report or protocol trumps all others (except maybe sales, but that’s another can of worms to open later).

In order to be a successful pharmacy business owner, we must learn to notice when performance is within normal limits (making budgets). We have to understand how different organ systems interact with each other (how sales, service, and payroll relate to one another). Only when we embrace the heavy responsibility of mastering pathophysiology on a micro and macro level (individual reports and overall profitability), can we succeed as corporate healthcare practitioners. 

The right way to oversee a pharmacy business without micro-managing evades many of us. But we accomplish this only by accepting that metrics in and of themselves are not important. Metrics, or diagnostic values, only indicate performance. They are not absolute reality, and should not govern our every philosophy at work.

The true measure of success depends on how strong the purpose is. What do the results really measure besides dollars and cents? Think about the why, the mindset, the heart. That is what you lead with, not numbers. Measure the performance behind the purpose, and I guarantee you will get the results, without all the retail whine and whimper.

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Business Tips from The Corporate PharmD

  • Retail Pharmacy requires business and clinical acumen in equal amounts
  • Treat business analytics and reporting like clinical lab values
  • Analyze your pharmacy business like you would a complex disease state
  • Lead with purpose and use numbers for root cause analysis or recognition

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