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    God, pharmacy, and the American way


    David Stanley, RPh
    I have a feeling that the people at The Divine Mercy Care Pharmacy (DMC) in Chantilly, Va., really knew how to throw a Grand Opening. I wasn't there, but I can imagine how much excitement must be added to the normal ribbon-cutting hoopla when the local Catholic priest is on hand to sprinkle holy water on your new business venture. How exciting it must have been to have God as a business partner.

    All they did at the first pharmacy I opened was give away free bacon.

    The priest was there because DMC Pharmacy was conceived as more than a regular drugstore. According to its mission, it was to be an outpost of conscience, with pharmacists refusing to fill prescriptions for oral contraceptives or to sell any over-the-counter birth control or other products that went against the pharmacy's stated moral code. Even makeup didn't make the cut.

    A business model that doesn't work

    By some estimates, as many as 98% of women will use some form of contraception during their lifetime. I remember thinking, the first time I heard of DMC, that its business model made as much sense as opening a pharmacy that refused to serve diabetics.

    In the end I was right. DMC closed its doors in March after less than 2 years in business. "Least surprising news ever," I thought to myself. "In the end, you still have to make money, and you don't do that by dictating to your customers."

    Then I realized that while I had been pondering this, I had been on hold with one of the local big-chain pharmacies for more than 5 minutes. This isn't an unusual experience when dealing with the big boys in my area.

    I can't help but wonder whether, in their devotion to making cost-cutting an integral part of their business model, the corporations that have taken over our profession aren't making as big a mistake as the one made by the owners of DMC when they declared devotion to their version of Christianity to be the cornerstone of their business model.

    It doesn't matter whether you outright refuse to sell something or whether you cut your staff to the point that no employee is able to help a customer. Either way, you don't make money. I suspect that after the fifth minute or so on hold, most customers see through the automated message telling them that their calls are very important. I also suspect that the convenience of a pharmacy drive-through loses some of its appeal when yours is the fourth car in line.

    What's in it for the customers?

    One of the major chains is currently experimenting with a system that routs your attempt to reach a local pharmacy to a call center possibly hundreds of miles away. I fail to see how that process is customer-centered. The industry seems to be asking more and more of its customers, and I can't help but wonder how much more of it our customers are going to take.

    I understand that in the business world change is inevitable, even desirable. But my appeal to the leaders of our business is this: Please, when you're pondering the direction of change, just ask yourself, "What's in it for our customers?"

    When you do this, it might not be a bad idea to listen to your pharmacists, who are probably the most people-centered employees you have.

    My call to the chain was finally answered after 8 minutes, and I was promptly placed back on hold. I could hear the stress in the voices of the pharmacy staff, but if I had been one of their customers and not a competitor taking a prescription transfer, I still would have been absolutely furious.

    Perhaps the fact that I was taking a prescription from them was a sign that I am right about the current state of chain pharmacy, just as I was about DMC. Time will tell. In the business world, though, it just seems like common sense that you dictate to your customers at your extreme peril. Even when you think God is on your side.

    David Stanley is a practicing community pharmacist in California. He can be reached at
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    Image featured at website home page courtesy of: Getty Images/Photodisc/Tom Le Goff.

    David Stanley, RPh
    David Stanley is a pharmacy owner, blogger, and professional writer in northern California. Contact him at [email protected]