Why You Should Choose an Independent Pharmacy for Your Family
by Holly Hanchey
There was a time when most Americans had their prescriptions filled at the counter of their locally owned independent pharmacy. The pharmacist knew all of their customers, their medical histories, and their doctors, as well as their families.
These days, almost 70% of Americans take at least one form of prescription drug, and more than half of us take two prescription drugs each day. In 2021 alone the number of prescriptions dispensed was around 6.47 billion.
The number of large scale commercial pharmacies has also increased in recent years, and are seen on almost every corner. But are they the best option for you and your family? It might be better for your overall health, and the health of your budget, to choose an independent pharmacy, like Paul’s Pharmacy in Evansville, IN.
With more than 19,000 independent pharmacies still operating in the US, there are more locations of independent stores than any one of the major pharmacy chains. While you might assume an independent pharmacy will be more expensive than the large chains, that’s not always the case. Jon Robb, a pharmacist at Paul’s, said “We do have the autonomy to work with customers as far as prices, we’re not locked into we have to charge them this price.”
“We have to make money of course to stay in business, but we can work with a customer who doesn’t have a lot of money, and [pharmacy owner] Jacob gives us leeway on pricing to help people out to get them their medications, because that’s the important thing is that patients get their medication.”
Another advantage to working with an independent pharmacy is time. Larger pharmacy chains are often working toward a bottom-line and revenue targets, which can inhibit the amount of time a pharmacist has to spend with individual customers. That’s not the case at a pharmacy like Paul’s.
Pharmacist Laura Ziliak says her priority is her patient’s health, because knowing the full picture of their life can help her make crucial decisions about their medication needs.
“Every person matters that comes in the door. [The] goal is for us to develop relationships with these people and get to know them; in turn they’ll use our business because that’s more valuable to them than what pricing may be. We just have more time, I can’t stress that enough to look at their overall health and their medications, find out what else is going on in their life, that could be somehow related, what side effects they are having, even if it’s not even drug related, so we can offer suggestions.”
Sometimes the help they provide doesn’t involve their store at all, as was the case of a customer who was desperate to find a particular product to help her son, who was battling cancer.
“She’d been getting the run around from pharmacy to pharmacy saying we don’t carry it,” Ziliak said. “Where Jon and I had time to call around, find out who does carry it, get her set up, and have it delivered to their house within a week. It’s just the little things that people need help with where we can make a difference.”
Accessibility to health care can be life saving for many. When questions about medications or side effects come up, trying to get through to a busy pharmacy can be frustrating for patients and doctors alike. That’s not a problem at an independent pharmacy like Paul’s, where the pharmacists have become resources for both customers and physicians alike.
“What I’ve noticed with the independent pharmacies is that area physicians strongly rely on us,” said Ziliak. “We get a lot more calls from physicians directly, maybe they have questions about medications or they ask advice on something, or they actually use our pharmacy because they know they can talk to us and we’ll pick up the phone. Here we have the continuity of the same pharmacists. We know exactly what’s going on with each patient every day and that helps the physicians.”
Pharmacists can also serve as a second line of defense against adverse drug events, or ADEs, which are defined as incidents where a patient is actually harmed by medication. ADEs cause approximately 1.3 million ER visits annually, and because we take more medications as we age, the risk of hospitalization goes up exponentially for older adults.
Using a single independent pharmacy can help alleviate the risk of ADEs by keeping a comprehensive list of medications a patient is prescribed in one location. Many patients might have prescriptions filled at multiple pharmacies, but that increases the risk of a drug reaction.
Ziliak said “So many people forget what they’re taking. They may go visit a local med center and they may get an antibiotic but forget to tell them they’re on a blood thinner. There’s no one who can catch that, the physician can’t catch that if the patient doesn’t know what medications they’re taking.”
In addition, pharmacists can help educate their patients and customers on the drugs they are prescribed, which can also serve to cut down on the number of ADEs. “There are some patients who say, ‘Well my doctor told me to take it so I just take it, I don’t know what it is,’” said Robb.
“And you have to take a moment and you have to re-educate them, tell them what they’re putting into their body, what could happen, because drugs aren’t safe. Even though we prescribe them to everyone, someone can have a reaction that no one else has to a drug. You have to know what you’re putting into their bodies.”
One of the most unique features of an independent pharmacy is the ability to compound medications. The Food & Drug Administration describes compounded medication as “the process of combining, mixing, or altering ingredients to create a medication tailored to the needs of an individual patient.” Compounding is usually not available in larger chain pharmacies, but it can be crucial for some patients with underlying conditions or specific medication needs.
“There are some hormonal medications and some other medications, topicals and some tablets, capsules, suppositories, internal creams or ointments that have to be precise dosing, like half milligram and milligram,” said Robb. “So the hormonal things are important because some women or men respond better to that specific compound and manufacturers won’t take the time to study it and approve it as a drug to produce it. Pharmacists can compound it and make it for the patient and help them out.”
Pharmacies can also do special or custom topicals like medicated diaper cream, or do oral suspensions for pediatric patients who have not developed the ability to swallow pills yet. They can also do personalized, compounded medication for pets.
Once you have decided to move to an independent pharmacy, it’s important to pick the right one for your family. The first step might be to take a look at the longevity of the pharmacy and its involvement in the community.
Robb says reputation is paramount when choosing an independent pharmacy. “Paul’s has been around since 1977. The reputation of the name, and the people who work for you need to be connected to the community. They see who you hire, and how you hire, and how you treat your customers.”
Ziliak suggests an interview-like process as well. “I think actually asking to speak to the pharmacist and getting to know them, that’s number one on my list. They’re filling my medications. Do I trust them? Do I feel like they have my best interests in mind, or do they care about me and my family?”
“I want a nice welcoming calm atmosphere,” she continued. “And I think too, [Paul’s] encourages us to be involved in the community. They are super involved and invested in the town, and I think that shows that they care for people as a whole.”