It’s the end of the school year in my household, and for pharmacies, too — they’ve received pretty good marks from Consumer Reports, one of the most influential arbiters of health grading. CR’s comprehensive survey on pharmacies is in its June 2008 issue.

The headline: independent pharmacies can offer higher levels of service, access, and approachability for health consumers. Independents got the high score of 92 compared to other pharmacies, whose ratings ranged from 91 for the Medicine Shoppe chain and Publix supermarkets, to a low of 79 for Wal-Mart, Giant-Eagle, Walgreens, Longs Drugs, Eckerd, and a 78 for Rite-Aid.

Of course, it’s not only stores’ responsibility to engage consumers in discussions about drug safety, drug-drug interactions, and other points about prescriptions. Consumers themselves more often than not do not initiative a discussion with pharmacists. CR found that consumers seek the advice about prescription drugs only 38% of the time. This dropped from 50% in 2002.

So our hurry-up approach to life continues to impact our health behaviors (and it’s “hurry-up-and-wait” at chain drug stores, which were found to have more waits for Rx’s than other retail channels).
When it comes to prices, Costco was the overall savings winner among retail stores, and online, AARP and rule for low prices. Big Box stores like Costco also perform better when it comes to having drugs in-stock compared to chain pharmacies and independents.

CR opines that pharmacy service could improve when ePrescribing takes off.

A note on methodology: These ratings were based on CR’s 2007 survey, comprising 40,133 responses from CR readers between April 2006 and April 2007. 100 points = total satisfaction with the experience. Four customer experiences were rated: service, which involves the pharmacist’s courtesy, helpfulness, and accessibility; knowledge, which maps to the pharmacist’s professionalism and competence; speed, which is time spent waiting for the script at the pharmacy; and, in stock — whether the drug was, in fact, on the pharmacy shelf.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: The customer-service experience at the independent reflects a consumer’s perception of access and comfort. Would that this experience be incorporated into the mass merchant environment where lower prices can be garnered by a consumer. Is there an economic law that Big Box or mass merchandise or supermarket must lack the personal touch? Or does the nature of the shopping environment in mass merchandisers/Big Box/chain simply mean low-touch. I don’t think it has to be this way. Good design within the pharmacy area, and an allocation of the right labor resource — say a health concierge — could add value to the mass retail pharmacy, and improve consumers’ health behaviors and outcomes. A low price is nice, even necessary; high value is better.