As CEO of Pharmasave Drugs (National), Carmen Churcott is responsible for the strategic leadership of Pharmasave’s over 500 community retail pharmacies across Canada. Before joining Pharmasave, she worked for more than 15 years in the grocery industry for one of Canada’s largest private companies.
By Jane Auster
Photography by Amanda Palmer
It’s been more than a year since you became CEO of Pharmasave Drugs (National). What have been some of your key areas of focus in that time?
Carmen Churcott. During my first year, I’ve been impressed by the powerful combination of the strong national Pharmasave brand, the demonstrated commitment to providing the broadest possible scope of professional services, and the independent spirit of community-minded entrepreneurs. Each store realizes the benefits of being part of a large, coordinated partnership of independents while retaining the unique ability to customize products and services to best meet the needs of local shoppers.
As key healthcare providers in each community and as a leading neighbourhood pharmacy in Canada, our personalized, relationship-based approach offers an individualized experience to customers, which continues to expand as scope of practice grows. To this end, we continue to influence and shape the future of the pharmacy profession, with an emphasis on new patient care services through engagement and collaboration with key industry stakeholders.
Community pharmacy emphasizing relationship-based care is at the centre of our strategy. We will continue to differentiate ourselves through world-class customer service by embracing growing patient expectations for convenient, expanded healthcare services, knowledge and technology.
What’s been the biggest change you’ve observed in the industry in general?
There is no doubt that Canada’s changing healthcare environment and ongoing drug reform are challenging pharmacy’s traditional business model. But, these changes also present new opportunities to fulfill an even greater role in healthcare provision.
As trusted healthcare professionals, pharmacists across Canada have many opportunities to provide professional services such as medication reviews, prescribing, injection services, travel health and minor ailment treatment.
We’re optimistic about the changing pharmacy landscape and our focus is to help our pharmacy teams embrace the changes in the profession and to provide them with the support they need to effectively incorporate expanded scope of practice into their daily workflow.
How is the blurring of the channels (especially with grocery) changing retail pharmacy?
The connection between grocery stores and pharmacies is not at all new; it’s been prevalent, in particular in the West, since the mid-1980s. In fact, in my former role, I held overall responsibility for merchandising, which included both grocery and the drug store business.
Recent mergers among major national entities is certainly something we watch with interest. However, the strong connection our community pharmacies have with their clientele, coupled with our deep understanding of the unique needs of the communities we serve, is a very powerful combination. This is a very personal business, and one of our key strengths is our commitment to individualized patient care, something that consumers are increasingly looking for.
What keeps you up at night when you think about pharmacy?
I’m always thinking about ways to ensure that we’re supporting our store owners and teams in delivering the very best offering to our customers, keeping pace with emerging trends as well as the regulatory environment within which we operate.
In every industry, one of the top issues that shareholders and leaders need to be concerned about is the regulatory environment. For several years, pharmacy has experienced the effects of drug reform and there’s no question that it’s put significant pressure on the viability of the business model.
While it is positive that governments are recognizing the opportunity to help lower overall costs and improve patient outcomes with new revenue streams for pharmacists, there’s an inherent need to build internal capacity to efficiently deliver professional services. With the landscape as it is today and the resources required to deliver these services, especially in provinces where the scope of practice and number of funded services are limited, it can be difficult to see the financial benefit in the short term.
What do you see as the power and draw of the independent?
As pharmacist scope of practice expands,community pharmacies are in an excellent position to become the most accessible healthcare providers and leverage this unique positioning to improve healthcare outcomes for Canadians.
At Pharmasave, we have the ability to deliver unique personalized service because of the trusted relationships our pharmacists have with their clients and communities. This lends itself to an exceptional customer experience, one in which we are genuinely able to tailor our products and services to the needs of the local community. We think that our strengths continue to hold us in good stead in the face of a competitive landscape that continues to intensify.
Pharmasave has continued our strong growth, with over 50 new stores added during the past two years. Earlier this year we celebrated the significant milestone of 500 stores!
What innovative new services at Pharmasave excite you the most?
One new initiative that we launched this summer is Pharmasave eCare. This interactive tool allows us to connect with today’s consumers, providing them with online access to their personal medication information. Customers can conveniently order refills online, set up refill and appointment email reminders and receive information and offers from Pharmasave. With a comprehensive library of health information and personalized recommendations, Pharmasave eCare engages patients through convenient tools for self-management to help them keep their health on track.
For pharmacists, the integrated Pharmasave eCare platform simplifies and automates the identification of patients for professional pharmacy services through provincially-optimized algorithms. Additional time-saving efficiencies include automated form completion and billing, as well as electronic storage.
Pharmasave eCare is the only integrated platform for independent pharmacy that enables stores to optimize funded pharmacy services, giving our members a competitive advantage in the marketplace and strengthening customer loyalty.
What is Pharmasave doing to attract new members and support current members?
All aspects of Pharmasave’s value proposition are designed to help members successfully build and grow their businesses. Our member-owned and governed structure and collaborative culture ensure a sharp focus on the best interests of our independent Pharmasave store owners.
Pharmasave provides members with the most complete programs, services and support available to independent pharmacists. The program provides comprehensive support for dispensary-focused stores, large formats with full front store offerings and everything in between. We provide our members and their store teams with best-in-class healthcare services and products, complemented with a full suite of merchandising, operations, business development, marketing, human resources, private label and technology support.
In today’s increasingly competitive retail environment, operational excellence and a proven business success formula are needed to deliver strong business results and sustainable financial returns, and that’s what Pharmasave offers independent pharmacies.