One U.S. state, North Dakota, and more than a dozen European countries have laws that require pharmacies be owned by pharmacists, not chains. These laws ensure that pharmacies are run by people whose first allegiance is to the provision of health care in their communities, rather than to the bottom line of a distant retail corporation.
Research shows that when independent pharmacists own drugstores, residents benefit from superior and more accessible care, and local communities reap economic benefits. In North Dakota, thanks to the Pharmacy Ownership Law, the state outperforms the rest of the country on every key measure of pharmacy care, from affordable prescription drug prices, to high caliber service, to an unparalleled level of access where pharmacies are both more plentiful and more broadly distributed. The state’s quality pharmacy care is no accident, but rather the result of a smart policy choice.
Independent pharmacies offer a range of services that chain drugstores do not, and in studies and surveys of consumer satisfaction, independents consistently come in above chains, supermarkets, and big boxes. “Independents… earned readers’ top marks for speed and accuracy, courtesy and helpfulness, and pharmacists’ knowledge,” notes Consumer Reports in a January 2014 story. At big box or chain stores, this kind of care is harder to come by. “It can be particularly difficult in large stores to communicate with pharmacists, who are usually in the back, leaving technicians and clerks to serve customers,” the Consumer Reports review continues. The magazine has repeatedly ranked independent pharmacies first overall since it began conducting drugstore consumer satisfaction surveys in 1998. It’s not just Consumer Reports: Independents also receive top marks in the J.D. Power Pharmacy Study, and in a report from pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim.
When pharmacists are also pharmacy owners, they’re freer to make decisions about care than pharmacists who work for chains are. “When pharmacists are employed,” finds an ethics report from the International Pharmaceutical Federation, “the tension between the professional imperatives of the practitioner and the financial interests of the owner or institution may compromise the professional service provided to patients.”
The European Court of Justice stated the same thing in even stronger terms in its decision upholding Pharmacy Ownership Laws in the European Union, in May 2009:
“It is undeniable that an operator having the status of pharmacist pursues, like other persons, the objective of making a profit. However, as a pharmacist by profession, he is presumed to operate the pharmacy not with a purely economic objective, but also from a professional viewpoint. His private interest connected with the making of a profit is thus tempered by his training, by his professional experience and by the responsibility which he owes, given that any breach of the rules of law or professional conduct undermines not only the value of his investment but also his own professional existence. Unlike pharmacists, non-pharmacists by definition lack training, experience and responsibility equivalent to those of pharmacists. Accordingly, they do not provide the same safeguards as pharmacists.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has also upheld Pharmacy Ownership Laws. In an era in which governments are increasingly seeking ways to create jobs, keep communities vital, and build strong economies, Pharmacy Ownership Laws are more forward-thinking as ever.
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