What is the role of the pharmacist in the new era of health reform? For those working at Thrifty White Pharmacy, it means maximizing skill sets to transition from pill-bottle fillers to expert consultants helping patients improve their health.

McKesson customer Thrifty White Pharmacy, with 49 locations in Minnesota and another 39 across the Midwest and East, developed a novel program three years ago that leverages pharmacists’ knowledge and training to improve medication adherence.

Called Med Synch, the program is a synchronized prescription refill service. Enrolled patients receive a call from a pharmacist one week prior to a scheduled monthly appointment to confirm prescriptions to be filled. During the in-person appointment, the pharmacist reviews all prescriptions and dosages and answers any questions.

“People are finally realizing that pharmacists don’t just put pills in bottles.”

Additionally, pharmacists give patients pill packets designed to help them remember to take medications on time at intervals convenient to them that follow physician orders. Patients only need to see the pharmacist once a month to get all their drugs, unless they get a new prescription from their doctor.

In the first two years of the program, medication adherence and refills among participants increased 2.8 times. Today, participants achieve nearly 12 out of 12 refills, compared with the national average of 4-5 refills out of 12. The program has about 43,000 participants across pharmacy locations with about 500 new enrollees per week.

Robert Narveson, president and CEO of Thrifty White Pharmacy, has been with the company for 24 years. He says the Med Synch program is the future of healthcare. Non-adherence to prescription drugs (not taking drugs in the right dosage, on time or at all) resulted in $213 billion in increased medical costs in 2012, including avoidable emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

“People are finally realizing that pharmacists don’t just put pills in bottles,” says Narveson. “We’re working to change the lives of patients.”

One important aspect of Thrifty White’s Med Synch program is the redesign of the pharmacies themselves. The pharmacies were remodeled with the pharmacist-patient relationship top of mind. Additional counseling rooms and clinical rooms were added, for instance, where patients can meet privately and in comfort to discuss their conditions and medications. Barriers were removed between the pharmacist and patients so there is more opportunity for interaction and discussion.

“Our adherence program is different from the status quo, I believe, because we have so many touch points,” Narveson says.

Another important success factor for Thrifty White is that it is employee-owned, Narveson says. This gives pharmacists and assistants and everyone working for the company a personal stake in its success, he says.

“Our employees take great pride in helping patients, and they are setting the standard,” he says.

Being a smaller player on the pharmacy scene doesn’t have to mean being at a disadvantage, Narveson adds.

“We believe we are one of the best partners in the country, and we have the outcomes to prove that,” he says. “We may be a smaller regional chain, but we can show that through the leadership and what we’ve done with our organization, we can make a difference.”

And Thrifty White Pharmacy’s model indicates that personal interaction and individualized action plans can improve outcomes. 

Innovator Insight: Listen to your customers and listen to your employees. They will tell you directly or indirectly whether your particular innovation is working — or needs more work.