Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Couponing for Prescription Drugs -- Guest Post by Reed Racette

Reed Racette published this article on LinkedIn and I'm sharing it here with his permission. Reed described his take on an experience he had from a customer service perspective, but it's just as illustrative from the perspective of managing prescription drug costs. In Reed's case, their pharmacist lead them through the process which is where the exceptional customer service came in. However, it's something you can do for yourself or a family member. I work with Reed's wife, Kellie, at ASHA and she told me the coupon they found covered the entire cost of the medication saving them more than $2,000. Many thanks to Reed and Kellie for sharing their story.

Customer Care - the Acceptable, the Expect-able and the Exceptional

Usually we only hear about customer care when something has gone horribly wrong. We have all been left in awe after hearing horror stories about frustrating experiences with cable companies, call centers, or DMV's. As consumers it's easy to criticize or complain, but as managers or service providers it's much more productive to find good examples to emulate. Recently I had a health issue that helped remind me of the value of truly exceptional care.

Background - Bear with me, this is relevant.

I’m pretty fortunate in that I am generally healthy and my family has excellent health insurance. But even with great coverage you don't always get great care.
Without going overboard with the details, last month I had severe swelling in my left calf. It had persisted for a while so I went to a doctor - expecting to be told to take aspirin. Long story short, I ended up in the ER. I felt fine, but fortunately the hospital took it seriously because as it turned out, it was deep vein thrombosis (DVT). Essentially I had a big clot in my leg, part which had broken off and made its way to my lungs, resulting in a pulmonary embolism. I stayed in the hospital for two nights while they ran many, many tests, and started me on blood thinners which probably saved my life. Upon discharge from the hospital, they gave me a four month prescription for an anticoagulant called Xarelto (from Janssen Pharmaceuticals). We left the hospital and went to the pharmacy for the meds. This is where the real story begins, because the customer care I received from my pharmacy - the Harris Teeter Pharmacy in Columbia, Maryland - is a textbook example of how customer care should be delivered.

The Problem

We have good health insurance but Xarelto is a very expensive drug. We (my wife and I) went to fill the initial prescription and found that our out-of-pocket expense for a two-week supply would be a little more than $500. The four-month prescription was going to cost thousands of dollars.

Caveat

Before I go any further, please note that this is not a knock on pharmaceutical companies. They take huge risks and incur big losses on drugs that never make it to market, but they are helping us beat more diseases than ever before. So while Xarelto is expensive, it's better than not having it as an option.

The Point

Here is how the Harris Teeter pharmacy team demonstrated how to move from "Acceptable" to "Exceptional." When the Pharmacist and the Technician (Faithe and Brandon) realized how much the medicine was going to cost, they were concerned. They know me, my wife, and our kids and they care about us. The situation was sub-optimal and Brandon and Faithe were empathetic. But they don’t set the drug prices, so it was outside of their control. If the story ended there, I’d say I received an “acceptable” level of care.
Then they suggested calling the insurance company and the doctor to check on other possible alternatives - maybe a lower cost option was available. This was smart, kind, and also a good business practice. As a valued customer I would expect this of my pharmacy, and my expectations were met. So I checked. I learned that other options were available for less money, but for several reasons I chose to stick with Xarelto as the doctor had suggested. We would just have to deal with the cost. We asked Faithe to fill the prescription, and said we would pick it up later.
When we got home, Faithe called with an idea. She suggested that we look at the Xarelto and Janssen websites because drug companies often have special offers and coupons (I had no idea) so we might be able to save some money. This was an exceptional act of patient care. The pharmacy is very busy, but Faithe wanted to look out for us. She didn’t have to take the extra step. She went out of her way to try to help because she cares. Regardless of the result, this level of care is on a higher plane.
My wife found that there was a special offer on the web site. It was a re-usable coupon that saved us more than two thousand dollars. This was great news for us, and I couldn't help thinking how it would affect patients who have to take this drug for years, or for life. When Brandon saw the new price of the prescription he was so happy for us that it was almost as if he had saved thousands. Again, this was exceptional. It is not often that a vendor or service provider - even in the health care industry - sincerely expresses concern for a client. This is a team that really cares about me and my family.

Lesson Learned

After this experience, I started thinking about the level of service we provide for our customers - I work as an IT consultant at GovernmentCIO. We want the best for our customers and the folks on my team go out of their way to meet high expectations. I like to think we are providing the same level of care that I receive from Brandon and Faithe, but do our customers know how important they are to us? How have I shown them?
Companies don’t win customers and form long-term client relationships by providing “acceptable” service or by “meeting expectations.” They build and keep relationships by being exceptional. One way to be exceptional is to show your clients that you sincerely care about them.
Do you?
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I am interested in your thoughts on what makes customer service exceptional. Please comment or contact me at rracette@governmentCIO,com
My 25 years of experience includes service as a military officer as well as time with large corporations, national non-profits, and small companies.
My Alphabet Soup includes: PMP, CSM, ITIL V3, Six Sigma
Thank you for reading.