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  • Writer's pictureRachelle Smerhy

How to Plan an Amazing Pharmacy Delivery Service

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

Part Two in our series on offering pharmacy delivery.

Welcome to part two of our series on offering prescription delivery. In part one, we talked about how the delivery trend has taken North America by storm in all sectors of retail. You can read that here.

We also discussed how offering delivery can increase revenue in your pharmacy. As well as ways your delivery service can help your pharmacy stand out from the competition.

Which can help you secure new patients through referrals. It's all about clever (and inexpensive!) marketing. Oh, and we also talked about how delivery can make your current patients fall in love with your pharmacy all over again.

Which can only be a good thing.

For independent pharmacies, offering delivery service means keeping up with the larger pharmacy chains. Because remember, every major chain in Canada is offering delivery service right now.

It can also provide an extra point of contact with your patients that helps you get to know them better. An advantage that most pharmacies don’t have.

And it’s all about patient engagement.

But let’s face it; if you’re looking at offering delivery, you know it takes some work. Because everything that's worth doing takes some effort.

You’ve got planning to do. And budgeting. And no doubt some hiring and shifting around of your current staff, depending on how you go about things.

So what's the best way to implement a delivery service in your pharmacy?

Here's what you need to consider.

Getting Started

To ensure that your patients get the most out of your delivery service, you’ve got to start off right. There are a whole heap of benefits to offering delivery. But there are also some challenges.

You've got some options.

There are a lot of companies out there, big and small, offering package delivery. Which means outsourcing is a possibility.

Outsourcing can look great if you're on a shoestring budget, which many businesses are. Particularly with all the unique business challenges we're facing since COVID-19.

Shipping prescriptions with an outside company has other advantages too. There's no worry about vehicles, no paying a driver, and the cost can be pretty reasonable.

So why would anyone keep their deliveries in-house?

Simple. In-house delivery is where you've got all the control. It allows you to coordinate every aspect of your delivery service. From delivery time to patient experience. And it's in-house delivery that allows you the advantage of true differentiation.

Let's take a look at both options.

The Advantages of Outsourcing

Some businesses like the idea of outsourcing deliveries to their customers. And there are some undeniable advantages. Like not having to pay a driver. Or increased insurance.

It may seem like a no-brainer. You find a local company whose rates are reasonable, and off you go.

Or if you think you’ll be doing a large volume, companies like FedEx or Canada Post may offer volume discounts. When you consider start-up costs, outsourcing may seem like the best route to go.

No pun intended, of course.

But chances are the company you outsource doesn't have a stake in your pharmacy’s growth. Which means your customers are not their priority. They’re not going to be as invested in keeping your customers happy as you are.

So how will their drivers handle interacting with your customers? How will they represent your pharmacy, your brand? Will they drop the parcel in the mailbox? Will they hand it over and take off without making your patient relationships a priority?

You might get super lucky. You might be able to find a delivery company in alignment with your patient care goals.

How likely is that? Like I said, super lucky.

And while outsourced drivers can be very professional, everything has it's limits. Like how much value outsourcing your deliveries will add to your patient relationships. Which has an effect on how much profit you make; you can read more about that here.

Plus, you may find that an outsourced service doesn't quite grasp industry regulations. And since you have no way of overseeing how your packages get handled once they're in that delivery vehicle, that can be bad.

Take temperature control; how aware are your outsourced drivers when it comes to keeping drugs safe? Picture your delivery driver on a hot July day. He picks up your order and off he goes, making six other stops on the way to the patient's house. He's almost there when he gets hungry and decides to grab lunch at a diner on the corner.

An hour later he's back in the car, but what temperature did your drugs get to?

Unfortunately when outsourcing, you really never know.

And what about handling cash on delivery orders; are you getting back the right amount of money?

Unless you can find a way to handle the logistics with very little control, you could have some big headaches on your hands with outsourcing.

Planning for Success with an Outsourced Service

To make a success of your pharmacy delivery service, you have some other decisions to make as well. Before you make any moves, you’ll need to answer some questions:

· What will your delivery schedule look like?

· How long will patients need to wait before their orders ship?

· What territory will you cover?

· What are the shipping times once the delivery service picks them up? Does your outsourcing service guarantee a delivery time?

· How will you ensure compliance and prescription safety?

· Will you charge a delivery fee? If so, how much?

· What will your shipping fees be? How does this fit into your profit?

· How will you take delivery orders?

· What software platform will you use to manage your orders? (I happen to know one!)

It’s important to be sure that you’re keeping your workflow as streamlined and efficient as possible. And for that you need a great delivery tracking system.

Now let’s look at keeping your service in-house.

The Advantages of Keeping Deliveries In-House

Keeping your service in-house has a lot of potential advantages. For one, the option to customize your patient experience. And provide revolutionary patient care.

True, you may need to hire drivers. You may need to train your staff on how to use your delivery software. But you can also work with current employees that you know and trust, if you can finagle the time.

You'll need to balance logistical success, customer satisfaction and financial management. Which means keeping your eye on the ball.

If you decide to keep your service in-house, there are other expenses to consider, such as:

· Buying or leasing a vehicle

· Gas & Maintenance

· Insurance

· Salaries

· Marketing & Advertising

The good news is that there are ways to keep expenses way down at the outset, and you can read more about that here.

Planning for Success with In-House Deliveries

Before you decide to stay in-house, there are other decisions you'll need to make. Here are some questions you’ll need to answer:

· What will your delivery schedule look like?

· How long will patients need to wait for their delivery?

· What territory will you cover?

· How many drivers do you need? How many vehicles?

· How will you ensure compliance and prescription safety?

· Will you charge a delivery fee? If so, how much?

· How will you take delivery orders?

· What software platform will you use?

Again, it’s all about an efficient workflow. You'll need an effective delivery software, route optimization and compliance procedures.

This may be a good time to mention that iApotheca has just the thing when it comes to amazing delivery software. Our EconoRoute™ delivery software is meant to make delivery cost-effective and easy to use.

But that aside, when deciding how you'd like your delivery service to look, it’s important to take the time to plan out both outsourcing and in-house options. Remember that it's vital to choose what will work best for you.

You should also remember that if you need to make changes later, it's not the end of the world. Offering a delivery service is like any new idea. Once you're rolling, you can test out concepts and see how they're working.

If you don't like something, try a different way of doing it.

This works best if you've planned for the potential costs and disruptions of future iterations. Be sure to take this into account when drawing out your plan. Along with any budget constraints and patient care goals. And of course any compliance needs.

Either way you decide to proceed, offering delivery can have a huge impact on your pharmacy.

If you do it right, that impact will be nothing but positive. And profitable.

But as with anything there are some potential pitfalls. So what are some other things you should focus on for success?

Managing Deliveries

Missing and late deliveries are like the kiss of death for any delivery service. If you’re not managing your deliveries well, there are a whole host of issues that can crop up. Angry patients, for one. Damage to your pharmacy's reputation for another.

The way you manage your deliveries is the most important factor in the success of your service.

First off, there’s patient satisfaction.

In part one of this series, we talked about patient referrals. About how, especially during COVID-19, your patients are having conversations. About how they're sourcing their supplies; medications, groceries, household essentials.

If you're doing a great job, these conversations will lead to referrals; if you're not, they won't. If you’re plagued with mistakes, if your service is slow, these conversations will work against you.

And then there’s compliance issues. In Canada, there are regulations for prescription delivery. You can find this information in your provincial legislation, such as the Drug and Pharmacies Regulation Act (DPRA) in Ontario, and the Narcotics Safety Awareness Act (NSAA).

And as with anything else, you must comply.

Depending on what you’re delivering, there can expectations as far as signatures. You need to know what the expectations are, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. Then there are audit trails and record keeping rules that you need to be up on.

Get these wrong, and you’re in trouble. So how do you avoid issues?

By using a delivery software geared to pharmacy operations to administer your service. And by having the right staff members working on the project. From your techs to your drivers, you need to know everyone is aware of the regulations. And on board with compliance.

Delivery Times

At this point we can agree that offering prescription delivery is a great idea. As far as patient convenience goes, it's a great addition to your list of services. But living in a delivery culture, people tend to have expectations as far as delivery times. And pharmacy delivery is no exception. Patients may not be willing to take on long wait times to get their prescriptions.

So how long should your wait times be?

It all depends. If you've got a super well organized system where you're prompting for refills via text message a week ahead of time, a week is fine. After all, the patient hasn't actually run out of their medication. With a patient who calls in to refill a script that they ran out of this morning, you need a different plan of attack. In these cases, most patients expect to receive their prescription within one to two days.

In Canada, Shoppers Drug Mart offers delivery service which is often same-day. And next-day delivery if the prescription gets called in during the evening. In the U.S., CVS offers the option of same day delivery.

If you think you’re going to struggle to offer this type of service, you may want to rethink your planning. Once you’ve got your delivery times worked out, make it very clear to patients what they can expect.

So how will you know if it’s working out?

The best thing about patients and customers is that they’ll always give you feedback. If it’s not working, they’re going to let you know. And it’s fine to make small adjustments along the way as you learn more about running a great delivery service.

Getting the Word Out

One other thing you need to plan for is getting the word out to your patients. If you don't, how will anyone know to use your amazing new delivery service?

Now, I know what you’re thinking.

We’re in the middle of pandemic here, the phone is ringing off the hook. You’re running around like crazy. Answering questions, dealing with refills, calling doctor's offices. How could anyone expect you to have the time to market a new delivery service?

I know. It sounds crazy, but it's not.

There are ways to get your message across with very little time and effort. Simple, yet effective ways.

For example:

· Put a banner in a prominent place on your website; announce it on your social media. If you don't have a website or social media, that's a whole different conversation we need to have. But I'm betting you do, and these are fast and easy ways to get the word out.

· Tuck a small pamphlet into every prescription you give out. Don't have any small pamphlets lying around, you say? You can outsource one on Upwork or Fiverr; it's cheap and their freelancers do great work. Or, take a few minutes to design one yourself on Canva. Then print out your pamphlets and you’re ready to go!

· Tell your customers! When they call in prescriptions, when they call in to ask questions, when they stop by for curbside pickup. Have the conversation, let them know you're offering delivery and why. Tell them it makes for better patient care, it offers them more convenience. There's nothing like a shameless plug for raising awareness.

· Turn to your local media for help. Write up a press release, call your local newspaper, your local TV station. I have no doubt that they'll be willing to give you some coverage. Especially when you're advertising such a helpful service.

It only takes a few minutes, and it can be well worth the effort.

Onward and Upward

Offering deliveries can be a big advantage to your pharmacy. From offering superior patient care to helping you stand out from the competition. Want more ideas on how?

Check out our first article in the series here.

But as with everything in life, doing great things always means a certain degree of risk. Should that stop you? No way! Taking advantage of this huge opportunity could revolutionize your the way your pharmacy does business.

But remember to keep the important things in mind, to plan wisely, and to keep your goals clear and measured. Have questions or comments about starting a pharmacy delivery service? Let us know!

And if you happen to be looking for great delivery management software, get in touch! We'd be happy to walk you through all the crazy good things EconoRoute™ can do for your pharmacy delivery service!

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