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Throughout this pandemic, it has become increasingly clear that pharmacists can do much more for their communities than just dispense medications. Tim Mitchell, owner and chief pharmacist at Mitchell’s Drug Stores in Neosho, MO, is passionate about following this new pathway and continuing to advance the profession beyond just these Covid-related opportunities. Mitchell joined us recently on the Catalyst Pharmacy Podcast where he discussed how his pharmacy team remains nimble and open to new opportunities. It takes hard work, but that hard work tends to really pay off.
Since Mitchell’s Drug Stores switched to PioneerRx pharmacy software, they have been focusing on ways to expand their business and increase margins. Some of their stores share a wall with a clinic, which opens the door to new collaborative partnership opportunities. Mitchell also highlights their initiative to establish a Central Office at their main store, so that one location takes care of dispensing while the others focus on clinical services and MTM. “We’ve had our stores operating as three independent entities, and it’s really three times the work, three times the inventory, and three times the staffing,” he says. “We could close the stores or consolidate them, but we felt like it was important to be there to offer those clinical services. With the Central Server, PioneerRx gives us the ability to always see what’s going on at the other stores.”
This is just scratching the surface of their business strategy. Mitchell has been on the immunization train long before Covid, and he doesn’t plan to stop there. There’s more to come on the horizon for independent pharmacy.
In the late 90’s, Tim Mitchell began offering immunizations at his pharmacy – much to the surprise of his fellow colleagues. “I went through a training program and I thought ‘This is something pharmacists should be doing’,” he explains. “And I had pharmacists calling me from all over the area going, ‘What are you doing? Shouldn’t that be for doctors and nurses? You’re supposed to be dispensing medicine’. And I said, ‘Well, we are. But we’re also doing vaccinations.”
Mitchell has been recognized by the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) in their Immunization Champion Awards, and he thanks his supportive, cooperative staff for this accomplishment. Their forward-thinking mindset has led the Mitchell’s Drug team to be prepared for new opportunities during the pandemic as well.
“Adversity causes opportunity…It can also cause people to close up and go home, but independent pharmacies are very nimble and can make these changes quickly. Our stores have stepped up to the challenge,” Mitchell says. They have been testing and vaccinating to support their community, and even stepping up to take extra doses of the Covid vaccine from the local health department and local hospital. At first, however, it took some outreach to get allocations of the vaccine. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, and Mitchell says the perseverance paid off.
“Initially it took a while to kind of get our feet on the ground. But once we did get the vaccine, we used it all immediately. Within a couple of days, we had it all administered,” he emphasizes. “It’s been a real eye-opening experience for me to see how our team can pull together. We weren’t sure we could handle the demand. Just making sure that all the T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted was a little nerve-racking. But everybody stepped up to the challenge.”
In addition to their drive-thru vaccinations, Mitchell’s Drugs has been holding vaccination clinics inside their pharmacy. For their very first vaccine clinic, they shut down their entire lobby and kept their drive-thru open for regular operations and dispensing prescriptions. In their lobby, they have sliding shelves so they were able to push everything out of the way and use movie theater ropes to rope off sections for unvaccinated and vaccinated patients. They had a good operation going – after paperwork was done, patients got their vaccine then moved over to another room for monitoring. Mitchell notes that a helpful item they purchased were some inexpensive countdown timers that they used to set a 15-minute timer that would signal to each person when they were free to leave.
With time, they refined their operation and it became a part of the regular flow of the pharmacy. “Initially, we focused on the vaccine clinic separately from the pharmacy. Now it’s just kind of in the flow of what we’re doing, kind of like how we do flu shots.” Their technicians also began training to help with administering vaccinations, thanks to new HHS legislation. “I’ve seen [our technicians] step up and do some really amazing things with the vaccine administration,” Mitchell notes. These champions on the team also helped with the reporting component of vaccination. According to Tim Mitchell, one of the biggest challenges has been inputting data and reporting to registries in a timely fashion. However, with the help of technicians and their PioneerRx software, they have been able to streamline their workflow. “PioneerRx helps us put that information in and submit those things much easier during vaccination.”
One silver lining of this situation is that provider relationships and relationships with other local businesses have blossomed. “I’ve actually had relationships with providers over the years. But I will tell you, it’s pulled together even more. I’ve had many providers call me relying on me to do testing for them and it’s been amazing,” says Mitchell. “You kind of wonder if they appreciate what a pharmacy does or if they even know what a pharmacy does. And I’m seeing that they actually are learning more and saying ‘I didn’t realize you can do that’ or ‘I really, really need your help’. And we step up to the plate to help them out and be partners with them.”
The pandemic has accelerated some opportunities for independent pharmacies, but Mitchell warns that we can’t quit while we’re ahead. It’s time to think about the next step.
“Vaccinations and testing is great, but it’s not the only thing. And I think it’s important that we show what we can do to help patients in our communities,” he emphasizes. “Pharmacies have stepped up to take care of their communities and it’s important for independent pharmacy to be around. This is the opportunity to carry it onto the next level and move the profession forward.”