A new player in the pharmacy industry is hoping to level the playing field for mom-and-pop shops in their never-ending battle with their big-box competitors.
Carman-based Providen Pharmacy Logistics has created a conveyor-belt system that fills recurring prescriptions automatically - and much more - quicker than can be done by hand behind the pharmacy counter.
David Huston, president of Providen, said its opti-fill II technology also does strip packaging as part of its back-end fulfilment services to make prescription sourcing more efficient. Nearly three-quarters of all prescriptions are "maintenance" or "chronic care" medications, he said.
"Our role is to proactively call the patient and say, 'Do you need your medication refilled and it's due in five days? That's no problem, we'll get that ready and it will be available at your pharmacy tomorrow.' It takes the burden off the community pharmacy to prepare it and have it ready for patient pickup," he said.
Providen's services could come in handy if the profitability of pharmacies, particularly smaller and rural outlets, continues to fall.
"I believe their company offers some solutions," said Darren Murphy, owner of Broadway Pharmacy. "They should allow for a cheaper way of filling and processing prescriptions. Margins are shrinking due to price cuts. We need to look at ways of reducing the dispensing process."
Murphy said if Broadway wanted to provide strip-packing services -- which is used in providing pharmaceuticals to personal care homes and jails -- it would have to spend $200,000 to $300,000 on machinery. But if Providen did it for him, he could email the files over and just wait for the shipment.
"It would save me having to go buy that automation and I can offer a full range of services," he said.
Pharmacists are increasingly moving toward providing consulting services and medication review, he said. If they start getting paid by the government for such work -- as has been happening in Ontario recently -- pharmacies might have to start up a separate business to oversee it, Murphy said.
"Having the filling done by a company like Providen would take the dispensing off of our hands," he said.
Much of the industry's price pressure is coming from in-store pharmacies at Costco and Walmart. Smaller players simply can't afford to match prices with the giants on anything more than a short-term basis.
The industry has been in consolidation mode for many years as bigger players such as Shoppers Drug Mart and Pharmasave have either bought out smaller players or forced them out of their business with their big-box stores. Pharmacies' profitability is also threatened by dwindling rebates from generic drug manufacturers, he said.
Communities where pharmacists have already closed down could be served by a Providen pharmacy technician, Huston said.
"It's like a distance-care program. The product could go to a remote dispensing location; the technician would enter the prescription and get it checked by a central pharmacist," he said.