Not so long ago, and probably not so far away from where you are reading this right now, there was a neighborhood drug store run by an independent pharmacist. Patients came to the pharmacy and were able to discuss their symptoms with a practitioner who knew their personal and family medical history. The availability of this service had huge benefits, yet is now rapidly declining, being replaced by chain stores that offer the same level of care as a gas station clerk. Sure, they’ll read the instructions that are written on the pill bottle to you, but they don’t know you, and can’t offer any personal touch or further advice. The Times Free Press reports, “The number of U.S. independent pharmacies has been halved in the past 30 years.”* The loss of personal care has led to dramatically rising abuses of pharmaceutical drugs, waves of misdiagnosis from first time doctor-patient interactions (that occur on a strict on a time limit, often in an ER or Urgent Care facility), and contributed to rising medical costs across the nation.
INTENTIONAL MARKET DISRUPTION
So what happened? The suppliers of the drugs the pharmacist dispenses, at one time they served the pharmacist, realized their market power and found ways to underpay the pharmacist on every prescription. Simultaneously they started moving business away from independents and toward chains by working with employer health care plans.
Because employees will always make less than a business owner, those extra profits now go directly to the drug companies. They can also do things like mandate the amount of time to be spent with each patient, and control their prescribing behavior. This leads not only to poor service, it has contributed to a nation wide epidemic of prescription drug abuse and overdose.
When pharmacy techs serve the pill companies on the pill companies’ terms, patients’ only option is to call the ER or the urgent care clinic, staffed by employees rather than independent care providers.
In theory this shouldn’t make much of a difference to level of care. A degree must still be earned, and the same basic service is provided, but we know that in practice an employee and an independent provider simply do not, and cannot, provide the same quality of health care.
ALL INDEPENDENTS AT RISK
Sounding a little too familiar? This is exactly what many of the companies that own the largest retail optical outlets, vision plans, labs, and frame production facilities are attempting to do to locally based independent optometrists. As an organization of independent optometrists, we must stand together to fight against these economic powerhouses, if there is to be any possibility of continued care for the health of patients. An annual eye exam from and independent optometrist will always be more meaningful than the occasional vision test from the mall.
Vision Care Direct and VCD Labs are managed by independent optometrists specifically to combat this rising trend. Will you join us in preserving independent optometry?