It’s flu season, and most independent pharmacies are busy administering flu shots to patients to immunize them from this year’s strains of the influenza virus. But for some independent pharmacies, the season is an opportunity to offer flu vaccines through offsite immunization clinics at local businesses and community organizations, creating new business opportunities for the future.

Offsite immunization clinics are temporary setups that allow independent pharmacies and pharmacists to conveniently administer flu vaccines to new patients rather than waiting for them to walk through the front doors of their pharmacies. Some of the most common offsite locations are local businesses, churches, retirement villages, assisted living facilities, schools and childcare facilities.

Key criteria for selecting the right offsite locations for immunization clinics

Not every location is right for an independent pharmacy that wants to open an offsite immunization clinic. After making a list of potential sites, the pharmacy should narrow the list down to the ones that offer the most clinical and financial opportunity in the short and long term. They should use the following three criteria to select locations with the most potential:

Building Independent Pharmacy Business Through Offsite Immunization Clinics1. Current customer. Locations that use other services from the pharmacy are ideal candidates. They know the pharmacy. The pharmacy knows them. That makes for an easy transition to additional services. A great example is a nursing home that’s already using the pharmacy’s medication synchronization program to deliver prescription medications on a regular schedule to residents. Adding an immunization clinic would be a natural extension of that relationship. 

2. Insurance status. The pharmacy should know how it will be paid for vaccines administered to new patients. This comes into play primarily with immunization clinics set up at businesses. Preferably, the business is self-insured and can pay the pharmacy directly. That’s the easiest way for the pharmacy to be reimbursed. If the business is not self-insured, the pharmacy should know whether vaccines are covered by the employer’s health plan. If they are covered, the pharmacy should know whether employees have a co-payment and how much of the balance can be billed to the health plan. If vaccines aren’t covered, the pharmacy should know how much employees are required to pay out of pocket.

3. Vaccine volume. Volume is important because administering flu vaccines at an offsite location must be worth the time and effort of pharmacists and staff who could be working at the pharmacy. The typical volume an independent pharmacy should be looking for is about 20 to 25 vaccines per hour. That equates to 80 to 100 vaccines during a four-hour clinic.

Knowing what to say to a potential offsite immunization clinic partner

Just because an offsite location makes a pharmacy’s shortlist doesn’t mean the location will instantly agree to set up an immunization clinic. An independent pharmacy should tailor its pitch to the specific site, highlight the benefits of the clinic to the sponsor and use statistics to back up the proposal.

  • To employers, the message should hammer home a message of productivity. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 111 million workdays are lost to the flu each year, costing American businesses $7 billion in sick days and lost productivity.1 For a small business with 20 to 40 employees, having half the workforce out with the flu can be devastating.
  • To schools, the message should be about herd immunity. Flu vaccines will help protect a child and all the children around him or her. That’s the ultimate contribution a school can make to its students and to its community. Unfortunately, 108 children died from the flu or flu-related causes during the 2016-2017 flu season, according to the CDC.2
  • To locations that serve retirees or the elderly, the message should be about helping protect them from the flu, which can be particularly devastating for that population. But the message also should be about other types of immunizations available to retirees and the elderly. The pharmacy can administer vaccines for pneumonia, shingles, hepatitis and more. 
Practical considerations before and during the offsite immunization clinic event

Assuming a desired location agrees to host a clinic, sets a date and time, agrees to the price for the flu shots and can provide the minimum number of participants, a pharmacy should take a number of steps prior to, during and after the event to optimize the experience for all those involved.

Before the event, the pharmacy should:

  • Check its state’s immunization regulations to verify that it can administer flu vaccines in the specified doses and formats to the targeted patient population
  • Verify that it is licensed to administer those flu vaccines in the specified doses and formats to the targeted patient population
  • Ensure that it has any required approvals, sign-offs or prescriptions from physicians
  • Check that its liability insurance covers an offsite immunization clinic

During the event, the pharmacy should:

  • Have a sign-up sheet or onsite scheduling tool to set appointments for individual vaccinations to maintain a steady flow of patients and avoid everyone showing up at the same time
  • Have patients complete their consent forms before they arrive at the clinic for their vaccinations
  • Set up three distinct areas in the clinic: one for check-in, one to administer vaccines and one post-vaccine area where patients wait for 10 to 15 minutes to watch for any adverse reactions
  • Have an emergency medical plan in place, including an emergency medical kit with epinephrine injection devices in case a patient has an allergic reaction to the vaccine

After the event, the pharmacy should:

  • Process all insurance claims as soon as possible and follow up with the patient or the employer if the pharmacy does not accept a specific health plan or if a claim is rejected by a health plan
  • Make all the necessary and required notifications of the vaccines administered with patients’ primary-care physicians and the state immunization registry
Building Independent Pharmacy Business Through Offsite Immunization Clinics GraphicUsing the immunization clinic as a springboard to other clinical services

The biggest benefit of an immunization clinic is the opportunity to market the pharmacy directly to new customers, whether they’re local businesses and community groups or dozens, if not hundreds, of individuals.

Immediately after the event, for example, the pharmacy should:

  • Thank the sponsor for their partnership with the immunization clinic
  • Ask participants for feedback about their experience at the event
  • Discuss a date and time for next year’s immunization event

Such conversations then and throughout the year open the door to conversations about other services the pharmacy could offer the business, organization or individual. Those could be anything from medication therapy management to health and wellness services like smoking cessation classes and health screenings.

During the event itself, the pharmacists or other staff should:

  • Ask the individual participants directly whether they’ve ever used the pharmacy
  • Tell the participants about other services available to them through the pharmacy like med sync, home delivery, 90-day fills or specialty drugs
  • Highlight the services and the personal touch typically not available from a chain pharmacy

If a pharmacy can pick up even one patient, and his or her family brings all their prescriptions and their business to the pharmacy because of a single flu shot, that can have a fairly big financial impact on a small independent pharmacy. The opposite can be equally devastating. If an independent pharmacy refers a regular customer to a big chain pharmacy for a flu shot, it runs the risk of having all of that person’s future business walk out the door.

Independent pharmacies that run offsite immunization clinics get it. They understand the compelling competitive need to offer flu and other vaccination services onsite and in the community. They realize the importance of those services to the community in terms of population health. And they are very good at marketing those services to potential new customers.

Related: Learn more about McKesson’s growth and expansion services for independent pharmacies

1Influenza (Flu) in the Workplace,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017
2Influenza-Associated Pediatric Mortality,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017

Mike Cihlar

About the author

Mike Cihlar is a Regional Director for Health Mart, McKesson’s independent pharmacy franchise of over 4,800 stores.  Mike has over 25 years’ experience working in drug and grocery retail operations, immunizations, marketing and healthcare.  Mike has been with McKesson for more than 3 years, focused primarily on providing support for our independent pharmacies and help them grow their business, bring new patients to their store and drive new revenue streams.  He earned his B.S. in Business Administration from Nebraska Wesleyan University and is Six Sigma trained.