MAY 2023 – Yolande Bousquet, 78, recalls one visit to her pharmacy when she felt dizzy after fasting for a lab test. She had no sooner sat down outside one of the counselling rooms when a person on staff provided a big bottle of juice at no charge and proceeded to check in on her every few minutes.
This is just one small example of the extra care and attention Bousquet has received since going to the Shoppers Drug Mart on the Third Line in Oakville, Ont., in 2004. Even though she has since moved from the neighbourhood and another pharmacy is in within walking distance of her new home, “I will keep going to Third Line,” she says without hesitation.
Those words are music to the ears of Fabio De Rango, owner of the pharmacy since the store opened in 2004. Success is all about building loyalty, he explains. “Anyone can sell what we sell and anyone can copy what we do. What they cannot duplicate are the relationships we create,” he says. “It is those relationships that keep patients coming back and justify my business model.”
What Bousquet most appreciates is the one-on-one attention. “If I ask about my prescriptions, or how I feel something is affecting me, they will take the time to talk to me,” she says. “Sometimes they even take me into a little room and sit down and explain things to me. They go out of their way to treat everyone.”
How did he do it? First and foremost, get staff on board. Then bring in the tools and the resources, including additional staff, to turn vision into reality.
In 2016, De Rango challenged his full-time pharmacists to develop service that taps into a personal passion. Fast-forward seven years and De Rango’s three Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacies in Oakville and Burlington, Ont., now offer a wide range of services, including pharmacogenomic screening, prescribing for minor ailments, cholesterol screening, home visits for consultations and medication reviews, an opioid dependence program that includes opioid agonist therapy, and much more. And with four Certified Diabetes Educators on the team, the pharmacy also provides full diabetic consultations.
“The goal with all these services is to help increase access to health care for our patients and help them focus on preventative medicines and lifestyles,” says De Rango.
In order to free up pharmacists’ time for these services and to embrace full scope of practice, he made the following changes to the workflow and the workplace:
- centralizing dispensing for chronic conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, hypertension, and mental health, as well as compliance packaging;
- digital platforms to allow patients to manage their refills, including payments online;
- expansion of the free delivery service; and
- an online scheduler so patients can pick a service, book an appointment and fill out documentation ahead of time.
De Rango has also set up a digital platform and app for his more tech-savvy patients, who can use it to for a range of functions, for example, to set prescription pick-up times or arrange for deliveries, to track self-monitored care such as blood pressure readings, and to request pharmacists to contact physicians. “All of these initiatives free up more time that our team uses to spend directly with our patients,” says De Rango.
He also hired registered pharmacy technicians and a pharmacy manager whose focus is to increase the pharmacy’s capacity to provide one-on-one care with patients. Finally, he repurposed his own offices to create space for a second counselling room at each of the pharmacies.
All these changes didn’t come without some challenges, notes De Rango. One of his biggest hurdles was changing the mindset of some employees. “This is a whole new way to practise pharmacy, a new way to increase access to health care,” he says. “Sometimes this change is difficult. People do not like to change what they are already good at and what they are comfortable with.”
He says he tried to motivate his teams with financial incentives, patient service goals and friendly competitions, but what worked best in the end was leading by example and making time to celebrate the impact they were having on patients’ lives. “We literally can have multiple life-changing moments every day. How cool is that!”
It was not long before the enthusiasm spread and became the primary motivator. Staff are more excited to come to work. To help sustain that energy, De Rango collects patients’ comments and letters (without patient health information) and displays them throughout the hallways and lunchroom, framing them as “Life Changing Moments.”
Financially, the transitions in business model were tough at first. But he trusted that his vision would eventually yield a return on investment. He was right.
“It has paid off,” says De Rango. “Build it and they will come.” Not only has patient loyalty cemented repeat business, but it has also brought in referrals.
As Yolande Bousquet puts it: “If anyone ever asks me of a pharmacist they should go to, I would say go to De Rango, 2501 Third Line.”
Action tips on drawing loyal customers
- Get input from the pharmacy team when initiating change and adding services.
- Focus on building relationships rather than filling prescriptions.
- Maximize technologies to free up pharmacists’ time.
- Add pharmacy technicians and other staff as needed to enable pharmacists to maximize one-on-one contact with patients.
- Lead by example and celebrate the impact on patients’ lives.