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Networking and grit help Missouri female-owned pharmacy expand

Melody Savley, R.Ph. has been a pharmacist since 1980. She started out managing pharmacies within grocery stores, and she and her husband eventually opened their own grocery store with a retail pharmacy inside it. They sold their grocery store and started focusing exclusively on growing their pharmacy business in 2004, and eventually expanded beyond retail pharmacy, and into specialty and long-term care. Here, Melody – owner of Alps Pharmacy, Alps Specialty Pharmacy and Alps Long Term Care Pharmacy, all in in Springfield, Missouri – shares key insights into her journey as a pharmacy business owner.

  • Don’t underestimate the power of networking 

Melody, who’s also the immediate past president of the Missouri Pharmacy Association and participates in Cardinal Health’s Women in Pharmacy initiative, says that getting out from behind the counter – and networking with fellow pharmacy owners – is what first gave her the idea to expand into specialty and LTC.

“We have always made it a point to attend industry events and conferences where we can expand our knowledge and learn ways to improve our business. We go to Cardinal Health’s Retail Business Conference every year, and we attend the National Community Pharmacist Association (NCPA) annual conference every year, too. It was through networking at those events that I first learned that specialty pharmacy and LTC were good opportunities to expand our pharmacy footprint,” she said.

  • Understand that different pharmacy models require different approaches

When it came to launching her specialty pharmacy business, Melody started out slow, running it out of her retail pharmacy – but quickly realized that that model wasn’t ideal.  

“Specialty pharmacy requires extreme customer service – when physicians’ offices call us, they want to talk to someone with specialty pharmacy experience, immediately.  We realized we needed highly trained staff with a specific understanding of the unique needs of specialty pharmacy and specialty patients. We moved our specialty pharmacy to a closed door model, and hired a person to help us with marketing. We get a lot of prescriptions through that part of our business now.”

  • Find creative ways to navigate reimbursement challenges

Melody acknowledges that in today’s environment, reimbursement challenges can make starting a specialty pharmacy business a particular challenge. She says that many insurance plans require patients to get their specialty pharmacy prescriptions filled through a PBM – and Medicare DIR (direct and indirect remuneration) fees made it very challenging to cost effectively fill specialty scripts for Medicare patients. 

These reimbursement challenges can certainly be deflating – to a business owner’s drive and to a pharmacy’s bottom line. Overcoming challenges like these takes grit, determination and a good amount of networking and creativity. 

For example, Melody got to work, researching the Federal 340B Drug Pricing Program — which allows healthcare organizations that serve a disproportionate number of uninsured and low-income patients to access outpatient medications at discounted prices.  When she realized that 340B prescriptions aren’t impacted by Medicare DIR fees, she started actively pursuing opportunities to fill specialty prescriptions for patients served by local healthcare providers who participate in the 340B program.

Melody’s diligence in finding a way to grow her specialty business has also paid off in other ways. Filling 340B prescriptions provides Melody and her team the chance to make a meaningful difference in the lives of low-income patients who are dealing with chronic and often life-threatening diseases – patients who can really benefit from a personal, face-to-face relationship with a community pharmacist they trust.  

  • Up-front investments can yield faster, long-term growth

“When we started our specialty pharmacy business, we started small. We took the opposite route when opening our LTC pharmacy,” said Melody. “We made big investments, up front, into all the equipment we’d need to grow our LTC business, fast.”

For Melody, that meant a $400,000 investment in a medication packaging robot; and the investment in a full time marketer to promote Alps Long Term Care Pharmacy directly to local nursing homes and assisted living facilities. And, just as networking first inspired Melody to expand into specialty and LTC, she has found that it’s been instrumental in growing both of those businesses, too. For example, when she attended the Missouri Assisted Living Association Conference, she met a local psychiatrist with whom she created an alliance, to fill his patients’ prescriptions and offer hands-on services to support medication compliance.

The Cardinal Health Women in Pharmacy initiative brings together female pharmacists like Melody – from all career stages – to share ideas, seek inspiration and develop mentoring relationships that can empower them to grow their businesses and their careers. To learn more about getting involved with the Women in Pharmacy initiative, contact womeninpharmacy@cardinalhealth.com or visit www.cardinalhealth.com/womeninpharmacy.