NACDS Total Store Expo 2018: A 360-degree View from Denver

Monday, September 17, 2018

David J. Fong, PharmD

“Staying informed is more important than ever given the changing market dynamics of healthcare.

I have been fortunate to attend the National Association of Chain Drug Stores conference for the past 30 years as it evolved from just pharmacy-to-pharmacy gatherings and technology updates, to the current industry flagship event, Total Store Expo. As one of the premier and unique conferences bringing healthcare stakeholders together under one roof for four days – mingling representatives from retail pharmacy chains, government entities, pharmaceutical manufacturers, payers, wholesalers, and leading healthcare software companies – it has been the one meeting I have always look forward to attending.

Once again this year, NACDS TSE in Denver offered busy pharmacy executives, partner vendors, and their respective teams an opportunity to get away from the busy day-to-day to focus on learning about pharmacy trends, networking with peers and other influencers in the industry, and exploring potential collaborative and strategic planning opportunities.

Meet the Market

The number of days dedicated to appointments in the exhibit hall was reduced to two and one-half days, despite the ratio of exhibitors to retail companies having increased this past year. For a vendor, the likelihood of getting an appointment with a retailer client or prospect is always challenging. 

Prior to the formal conference program, the “Meet the Market” event offers vendors, especially new ones, the opportunity to share a snapshot of their product /services with representatives from pretty much every pharmacy retailer in the U.S./Canada in attendance.  Vendors could prospect level of interest and possibly coordinate next steps to follow up – all within 10 minutes of appointment time!

For a pharmacy retailer with limited resources attending the conference or a professional who doesn’t have a lot of time to walk the floor to see what’s new, exciting, and relevant, this day is useful and well-spent.

Key Attention-getter Messages

While the agenda was jampacked with great sessions, several key attention-getter messages captured my attention:

Overall Impression of the Conference

Beginning with the Sunday morning “kickoff” and state-of-the-industry update shared by Steve Anderson and Mark Panzer, the conference unleashed some of the best presentations and opportunities supporting the business and profession of pharmacy, as it continues to strategically position itself on how best to continue to succeed as a business while expanding its role and becoming a destination for expanded healthcare, delivering pharmacist-driven offerings and solutions.

Destination for Accessible and Affordable Healthcare

With the increased demand for access and affordability by consumers to healthcare services, there is an emerging importance on the value of pharmacy as a destination for healthcare services. In order to achieve this, however, retailers require solutions and tools to optimize efficiency in the pharmacy delivery system. Productivity is always a key focus for pharmacy retailers at this conference, since there are only so many hours in the day, and they are expected to get more done, and quicker, every year.

The conference shared trends, successes, and key opportunities for expanding role of the pharmacy/pharmacist, with special emphasis on:

  • Immunizations
  • Health screenings
  • Patient engagement tools
  • Disease state management  

Digital Communication Strategy

Retailers are continually exploring ways to broaden their reach to the consumer and offering Web-based options that leverage e-commerce and digital communication to complement “brick and mortar” offerings/stores, optimizing convenience and furthering engagement of the consumer.

As pharmacy retailers look for ways to increase revenue by acquiring and retaining customers, one of the main takeaways is that there is more technological advancement and sophistication enabling pharmacies to engage with the consumer to develop and build loyalty while advancing patient care and outcomes.

A number of exhibits supported the value of digital communication such as:

  • Mobile health
  • Telehealth
  • “Machine learning” from a broad number of databases
  • Translating data to serve up real-time content
  • Patient engagement tools and platforms to provide a more holistic health-and-wellness, food-and-drug shopping experience, based on individual patients’ healthcare paths

Pharmacy Trends and Forecast

As always, Doug Long and Sarah Keefer of IQVIA provided great insight on statistical pharmacy trends, providing key forecasts for the rest of 2018 and 2019 that might be helpful for all attendees in supporting the strategic and fiscal planning process for the industry. Key trends included:

  • Continued growth of high-costing specialty drugs
  • Slowdown of deflation and inflation of drugs
  • “Wake up and notice” disruption announcements this past year that may have potential longer-term implications on the healthcare supply chain, such as:
    • Amazon’s entry into healthcare
    • Vertical integration companies by CVS Health, Express Scripts, etc.
  • Insight and mix of prescription growth
  • Continued impact of Direct and Indirect Remuneration (DIR) fees
  • Impact of continuing drug price increases and shortage of select drugs
  • Consumer-centric healthcare and the responsibility of patients to control and manage their own health as deductibles and co-payments continue to significantly increase

Exhibit Hall Observations

As I spent one day walking the exhibit floor, I was able to observe vibrant and energizing communications between retailers and partner vendors on a number of product and service offerings.  What resonated from many exhibits was a consistent theme: the significant role of pharmacy in making an impact on the healthcare industry. Discussions focused on collaborative business models and solutions that would enable pharmacy to positively impact to successful patient clinical outcomes.

Several observations include:

  1. Pharma discussions on traditional retail distribution products and specialty products distribution addressed limited distribution network participation requirements and participation, as well as working capital management and cost of goods / supply chain procurement and distribution. Highlights this year included new product launches, generic distribution, and discussion of widespread drug shortage issues affecting select products/categories.
  2. Payer discussions centered on reviewing performance of providers, following up on network participation that started as early as May for the 2019 year, and how best to partner with PBMs to mitigate DIR retroactive assessments.
  3. Patient engagement technology and data analytic tools that would connect the pharmacy more in “real time” with the patient and support effective monitoring of compliance and adherence were a hot topic. The difference between previous years and this one was that these tools were more pharmacist-driven and not totally based on empowering or trusting the patient to take his or her own responsibility for better health.
  4. Transitioning from a transaction-based business, in which financial success is measured on prescriptions filled, to a balance between prescription services and the emerging expanded role of the pharmacist as care provider was a topic of focus. This transition requires technology tools to improve workflow productivity. From IVR (interactive voice response calling) inbound/outbound, to robotics, to patient security and safety tools, to pickup and exception reporting follow-up with patients, to inventory management and working capital solutions, there were many tools that could assist with these efforts … and these booths were always busy and generating strong interest.

Educational Sessions

Collectively, the educational sessions and panel presentations at NACDS TSE offered great value to all who could attend. Excellent topics abounded, and I know a number of retailers and vendors wished they could have attended more of the sessions, considering the relevancy and value of these presentations by industry experts.

In retrospect, my four days at the conference provided a valuable opportunity to get a 360-degree view of the pharmacy industry and the challenges and opportunities we face, both today and into the foreseeable future.

I would strongly encourage those connected with pharmacy to attend this conference next year, and it’s never too early to plan how best to maximize the benefit of attending. NACDS Total Store Expo 2019 is slated to be held in Boston Aug. 24 to 26, 2019.

David J. Fong, PharmD, is president of Dave Fong Rx Consulting, Inc. A former senior retail pharmacy executive for Fortune 100 and Fortune 500 companies, he is recognized as one of the U.S. and Canada’s business and professional healthcare leaders, leveraging his knowledge and experience working with pharmaceutical manufacturers, distributors, retailers, payers, and healthcare technology companies to bring value to the industry and the consumer.

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