McKesson spoke with Robert Narveson, president and CEO of the Thrifty White Pharmacy retail pharmacy chain based in Plymouth, Minn. Our topic was how large companies — Goliaths — can partner with small companies — Davids — to foster transformative innovations that benefit the partners as well as their respective customers.

McKesson recognized Narveson as a local innovator at our Better Health Twin Cities event in June for Thrifty White’s medication synchronization program, which dramatically increases patients’ medication adherence.

How can pharmacy chains benefit from partnering with small companies?

Narveson: In a word, speed. You can get to where you need to go faster when you partner with a smaller company that has the solution you need. First you partner with multiple smaller companies to find the solution. Then you identify the best solution and implement it quickly.

How has Thrifty White used that approach?

Narveson: We partnered with a smaller technology company to put together and launch our telepharmacy program. And we partnered with a smaller company that provided an essential component of our medication synchronization program. We would have gotten to both eventually ourselves, but by partnering with these two smaller companies, we were able to get our innovations to market faster.

What makes for a good small business partner?

Narveson: You have to share core beliefs. And the most important of those core beliefs is providing better care at lower cost. If you do that, then every other stakeholder is satisfied, whether it’s patients, insurance companies, providers, government, business, whoever. After that it’s trust. You need to trust the small companies you’re working with, and they need to trust you. That’s important when you’re setting your three-month, six-month and year-end goals. Do you trust your partners to be on the same page and innovate at the same pace?

How can pharmacies identify companies to partner with?

Narveson: There are many ways, but I’m a big believer in trade shows. For us it’s the annual exhibition and conference put on by the National Association of Community Drug Stores. You work the shows and look at what everyone has out there and you ask yourself, “What do they have that best fits into our process?” Big companies need to take the time and make the effort to attend the trade show in their market.

Where is innovation needed most in retail pharmacy?

Narveson: Innovation is needed anywhere that takes the pharmacist away from the patient. Pharmacists are far too bright to spend their time putting pills in a bottle. They need to be working directly with patients to improve their health status. Any technology solutions for filling prescriptions, identifying potential medication errors or increasing patients’ medication adherence are ripe for innovation.

What about the practice of pharmacy itself? What innovation is needed there?

Narveson: Pharmacists need to be able to write prescriptions themselves under a collaborative practice model with physicians. For example, they should be able to test for strep and then write a prescription for an antibiotic if that test is positive. That improves patient care and lowers costs. That’s where the industry needs to be heading. Pharmacists need to be practicing at the top of their license in partnership with other clinicians in a coordinated-care approach.

Robert Narveson is president and CEO of Thrifty White Pharmacy, which operates 49 pharmacies in Minnesota. Narveson has held several positions on the board of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores, including chairman, vice chairman, treasurer and director.