Highlighting the important role independent community pharmacists play in our national healthcare system.
Pharmacists: Neil Leikach, RPh and Dixie Leikach, RPh, MBA
Pharmacy: Catonsville Pharmacy and Finksburg Pharmacy
City, State: Catonsville, MD and Finksburg, MD
Pharmacist's years of service: 22 years
What led you to a career in independent pharmacy?
Neil: "I graduated in 1992 and in between that, I was working at an independent pharmacy. My dad was a pharmacist and he had his own store as well. I didn't work with him though; I worked at another independent. I started out as a delivery driver, then a technician, and then I went to pharmacy school. In 1996, I did the ownership workshop in Memphis. After that, I knew I wanted to take the next step. I worked for an independent pharmacy for about a year before opening up my own store. I did a rotation in a community chain at a beach resort. Dixie had worked for a chain and I got her insight on chain pharmacy and knew I didn't want that as a career."
Dixie: "Seeing Neil's dad, seeing his experiences, talking with him and then the people we met through him. A lot of his friends were pharmacists. Also, talking about the fact that Neil had only worked in independent pharmacies at that point. Also, if it's our store, we can practice pharmacy the way we want. When one of our pharmacists wants to bring in a program, they just have to ask us, talk about the costs, risks, and the time we have to put into it, how we can arrange the schedule so that you can do it and we can try. They don't have to go through a whole hierarchy of approval and try to figure out if it is something the whole chain can add. You can start things faster."
What makes your pharmacy stand out from the competition?
Neil: "We have incorporated a lot of unique gifts from a gift show. They are unique to the area that other independent pharmacies or even chain pharmacies don't offer. They range from $10 to $20. We started point of care where we work with a company that deals with drugs that want to go from Rx to OTC. We have to have actual use studies. We were contacted by the company about 10 years ago and have worked with them on studies where they would like to see the drugs go from Rx to OTC. When I'm a part of this, I'm not a pharmacist, but rather an investigator. It has been interesting to see drugs go from Rx to OTC that we have been involved with."
Dixie: "We also started a Mommy and Me section. We saw this at one of the conferences we were at. We started doing the breast pump program. It seemed like a lot of places that were supplying it have gotten out of it. This was our first hesitation - why? We are always looking to fill in the gap where people are having trouble finding the services that they need and can't find. This is one of the things that have fallen out of favor and now we get all these calls. Carroll Hospital called me and said they didn't have anyone to refer their patient to because the only other supplier of the Medela breast pump was another lactation specialist. They didn't want to send their patients there. Because of that referral, we were able to get into the Medela network."
What are your biggest challenges?
Neil: "The biggest challenge in the last couple years is the third parties and the change in the way things are being reimbursed. It has made it difficult for purchasing—we have to look and see if we are buying enough and just making sure we're not losing money for each prescription."
Dixie: "It's been harder to keep up with regulations, not just pharmacy regulations. There are regulations surrounding credit card machines—HIPAA seems to be more complicated—more designed for chains and larger corporations in general that have whole departments that deal with these things. We go to the talks and conventions, listen to what's new and out there and we still find it hard to get the right information and what we need to do."
Describe a recent, rewarding experience with a patient.
Dixie: "At the Finksburg Pharmacy, we recently lost one of our closest customers. When he first came into our store, everyone discouraged me to take him on as a customer because he was being such a hassle and difficult. He gave me his list of drugs of what he was getting...and asked if I can meet or beat the prices listed since he didn't have insurance. At this point, we were a new pharmacy and were desperate for customers. He eventually became everyone's favorite patient. He was rude, but he was who he was, a great guy. He was diagnosed with late stage cancer. When he was in hospice, I met his daughter and she was telling me that a couple of times he was discharged on either a Saturday or Sunday night with a new prescription, but the pharmacy was closed. He knew he could have called me to have the prescriptions filled, but refused to call and said he would wait until I opened. His daughter offered to take his prescriptions to another pharmacy and he got mad at her. He told his daughter not to "interfere with his relationship with Dixie." He didn't want anyone else to fill his prescriptions. He felt so strongly about my pharmacy. He truly showed he cared about the pharmacy each time he walked in the door. He knew business because he was a business owner himself. It was a rewarding experience to me because someone felt that strongly about me as a person and my business. He knew it made a difference, even though it was one or two prescriptions. When you see that you have made a difference in someone's life—he was willing to go without medication—it's mind boggling."
How has NCPA helped your business?
Neil: "It has given us new ideas. Going to conventions, networking with other pharmacy owners, and going to the trade shows seeing new opportunities out there; it has helped us realize that others are also going through the same problems."
Dixie: "When we first started, they gave us a lot of great ideas in building our business. Now that we are more established, we are still finding new niches that are coming out, new pharmacy services...We can hear from other pharmacy owners and how they implemented it in their businesses. We transitioned to using Simplify My Meds because we felt it was important to support the bigger picture and the fact that they provided the marketing material for me and I didn't have to make that myself, so that was a big help. Legislatively, they came to help us in Maryland when we were testifying for a PBM bill...Sometimes you need the backup from the bigger organizations. We appreciated their support because I think it made a big difference."