Keys to implementing a weight management program in your pharmacy
The key ingredient to successfully executing professional pharmacy services is to ensure that pharmacy staff can follow systems and procedures that they can recall easily and that are reproducible.
While there are nuances in relation to executing specific weight management programs in community pharmacy, there are core elements that are the same across all successful professional pharmacy programs.
As a community pharmacy, you should execute the system that best meets your needs but ensure that the same processes can be engaged by staff no matter what the professional service.
The following are the 21 steps to success that PharmaPrograms deems are key success factors, and by embracing these points, across three areas — Staff, Systems and Best Practice — you are well on the way to success.
In this article I will tailor comments to general weight management program issues. I will not comment on specific branded programs.
- Establish a ‘Program Champion’. A passionate staff member needs to be accountable for the weight management program. They do not need to be a pharmacist. This person will be responsible for implementing, reporting and reviewing the program at regular intervals.
- Arrange a staff meeting to set up the program (Staff training, delegate tasks). Any staff member that may have patient contact in relation to the program needs to be engaged early in the process. ‘Buy in’ is key. At this meeting, detail any staff training requirements and software that may be used with the weight program. And I recommend role-plays as they are the best way to explain processes to junior staff members.
- Staff position descriptions should include the program. All too often pharmacy owners use as an excuse that their staff are letting them down in relation to executing programs. If your pharmacy has a specific program, it needs to be included in the job description of the staff —that includes pharmacist interns, casuals and students. This leads to accountability.
- Measure program & staff performance (weekly is preferred). Staff appreciate feedback, and for a weight program, reporting should include new sign-ups and return visits, global weight results from patients and revenue performance across services and products — just to name a few metrics.
- Staff ‘Performance Reviews’. Pharmacy-based weight management programs rely heavily on staff input. There is a strong ‘trust’ bond built between the patient and the staff facilitating the program so it is key to provide regular feedback to the staff via performance reviews.
- Acknowledge and reward staff. Reward staff for achievement of KPIs — it doesn’t have to be a monetary reward.
- Survey staff. Weight management programs cannot be set and forget. Your staff are the best feedback mechanism to be aware of issues such as effectiveness of the program, competitor activity and patient satisfaction.
- Set targets and goals for the program: measure and review. This may seem obvious, but targets need to be set regarding the points on a weight management journey that patients find most difficult. In weight loss, the critical time point is 2–6 weeks into the program. This is because the initial enthusiasm may be over and weight loss becomes more gradual from week 2, so patients need to be followed up and goals need to be set for this difficult time period. If patients can be supported during this ‘hump’ period, their success post week 6 will ensure a significant proportion of patients stick to the program. Ensure targets and goals are in line with those set by professional organisations.
- Integrate the program into dispense work flow. The most successful pharmacies are those where the pharmacist is engaged in the program and referral to the program from the dispensary is well established. The recommendation of a pharmacist to the program is powerful so ensure the pharmacist can triage patients to the service easily, and if that means a different staff member is responsible for the service, then a personal introduction from the pharmacist is key.
- Written systems and procedures. Community pharmacies are open for long hours so one staff member alone cannot facilitate the program. Ensure good documentation is in place so that multiple staff members can facilitate elements of the weight management program. Ensure systems and procedures are set by a reputable organisation.
- IT enablement of the program. There are many existing IT systems to facilitate specific branded weight management products, but the pharmacy also needs its own systems to have an expanded service and triage to other services. An example might be that a patient utilising the service is an ideal candidate for a MedsCheck or an HMR. It is important to have systems that track patients across programs.
- Dispense software. Note on the dispensary system, in the comments field, which patients are enrolled in programs so that the pharmacist can engage with the patient and provide feedback.
- Marketing plan (including internal and external promotion). This area is where pharmacy performs below par when compared to others in the market. Given the foot traffic in the average pharmacy, in-store collateral is vital and doesn’t need to be expensive. The pharmacy needs to use all its assets to promote the service, and that includes social media, catalogues, and even seemingly small additions such as including a promotional leaflet when sending out monthly accounts.
- Measure outcomes. Measuring the return on investment is key, so if a marketing promotion is undertaken, measure the impact of that promotion. Weight management services are labour-intensive so ensure all costs are included.
- Consider how to link referrals to other professional programs. As detailed previously, there are many 6CPA programs that may be suitable for referral.
- Know the whole value of the program. Community pharmacy has worked hard to be seen as a weight management destination over the last decade. There are benefits to the pharmacy beyond just direct revenue. This may include an increase in prescription compliance, increased patient ‘stickiness’ or the return visit rate to your specific pharmacy, the benefit of referral to other professional programs and, naturally, the increase in OTC sales related to the weight management category.
- Alliance with health and patient groups. The pharmacy’s local area marketing should promote this weight management service to local groups.
- Alliance with local doctors. This is the single most important success factor in my opinion. In simple terms, if the pharmacy refers patients appropriately to the doctor, they in turn will receive referrals to the service. The best pharmacies have protocols regarding referring patients to local doctors/specialists if a prescription therapy should be considered by the prescriber, rather than just providing products at the pharmacy.
- Set an annual calendar for seasonal services. Year-round services offered in community pharmacy can sometimes become stale. It is important to use specific promotions to vitalise the service.
- Review/copy the execution of ‘best practice’. If your pharmacy is signed up to a specific weight management provider, ask their head office for best practice examples and see what they are doing to drive success. Feel free to ask reps and colleagues for best practice pharmacies.
- Promote your program success. Patients seeking support with weight management issues love to hear about other successful patients. This is why the whole weight loss industry is predicated on case studies. At the local pharmacy level, consider how you can promote successful outcomes, but it is important to remember privacy issues and to gain consent from patients.
Apply these 21 steps to success and you are well on the way to building a successful weight management category in your community pharmacy.