In 2015 McCann Health launched McCann Pharmacy Initiative (MPI), a Toronto-based agency dedicated to pharmacist-oriented communications.

As to the logic behind the move, “The rising importance of pharmacy as a venue of health management cannot be denied,” said John Cahill, global CEO of McCann Health. “It now warrants an expert group that can help our clients maximize this important shift in health delivery—whilst at the same time assisting pharmacy navigate the shift to advanced pharmacy.”

MM&M‘s Marc Iskowitz spoke with Sandra Carey, MPI’s president, about the retail and macro forces driving pharmacy’s larger role in healthcare.


Marc Iskowitz (editor in chief, MM&M): While many healthcare agencies are led by either former or practicing pharmacists, or have them on staff, there aren’t too many shops devoted to this audience. Why now?


Sandra Carey (president, McCann Pharmacy Initiative): McCann is very focused on meeting the needs of clients and understanding the role that all [stakeholders] play—whether it’s the consumers, the HCP or pharmacy or even patients from a patient engagement point of view. We understand that the landscape is changing and to meet the needs of our clients, we have to address [those changes]. Pharmacy is one of those HCPs that has not been at the forefront of what has happened in agencies, from my perspective, ever.

Iskowitz: Pharmacists are moving to the front of the counter with patients. What’s driving that trend?


Carey: What’s happening is pharmacists are moving from dispensers to trusted advisors to decision makers. The need for having other access points into the healthcare system is growing as the population ages, as we continue to [come] under financial pressures in healthcare. Pharmacists are an underutilized HCP in that network, and finding what they can do to help decrease some of the pressure on the healthcare system has been happening all over the world and especially in the US.

The other thing pushing the market is the involved role of the retailers from a community pharmacy perspective. Pharmacy is transitioning to a community health management and wellness destination in many markets, because patients see pharmacists an average of 12 to 14 times a year and a lot of patients only see their physician two to three times a year.


Iskowitz: As a practicing pharmacist, I’m sure you have a firsthand appreciation of all of this.

Carey: Having Amar Urhekar [president of the Americas at McCann Health, who is a pharmacist by education,] in the position he’s been in heading up the North American team at McCann Health has been instrumental in pushing pharmacy to the forefront. His understanding of the practice, of the changing landscape, has really helped bring this to life. Understanding that pharmacists are now becoming involved in health protection, disease prevention, early disease management and the treatment of chronic disease—Amar understands all those points.

Iskowitz: How receptive have clients been?

Carey: Right now we are at the beginning of a seismic shift in the way that our clients see pharmacy: they know it’s become very important. Pharmacy has become like the phoenix [rising] out of the ashes. All of a sudden everybody is saying, “Wow, we’ve always done some things in pharmacy but now with them moving into the HCP role, is it enough?” It’s going to continue to grow as…pharmacists become more influential in treatment and care decisions.

Iskowitz: Where do you see clients getting involved in communicating with the pharmacist?

Carey: There are two really important parts of pharmacy that are on the rise—the business of pharmacy and the practice of pharmacy. Rather than just focusing on what they think pharmacists need, it’s focusing on that new role they’re having in the conversation with patients.


Iskowitz: On a broader level, how is the role of the pharmacist expanding?

Carey: There’s a lot of evolving pharmacy practice trends, but as we move through a lot of the legislative changes happening in the US, it’s not meant to replace anything physicians are doing, it’s actually meant as a complement.


Iskowitz: The pharmacy field was thrust into the spotlight recently when specialty pharmacy Philidor Rx’s billing practices drew scrutiny, specifically its methods to get insurers to pay for specialty medications. Specialty is an important part of the value chain, as well.

Carey: What we’re finding is that specialty pharmacy…[is about] being able to offer complex medications to patients through specialty services and case managers. And we’re finding that pharmacists are becoming more involved and being a part of that… I don’t want to offer an opinion on [a specific news story], but I think specialty pharmacy and how we’re engaging with patients from a case management point of view is extremely important in making sure we care for patients who are on very complex medications.

Iskowitz: What upcoming changes in pharmacy should be on our radar?

Sandra Carey: You will see changes to retail pharmacy services, the growth of retail clinics, some of the specialty pharmacy practices merging. All of those things are in transition as we move through how can we better care for the population. The US has some of highest healthcare spend globally versus patient health outcomes being some of lowest from a global perspective. So we must figure out a way to change that around. And pharmacy is going to be a part of that—it won’t be a central part of that, but it will be a key part. And whether it’s in specialty pharmacy or retail pharmacy, or the rise of retail pharmacy services or hospital services, or specialists within the pharmacy field, all of that will pan out for our clients in making sure we service them the best way we can so they can, with their great product, be able to help our patients improve health.

Iskowitz: How do global pharmacy markets compare to the US?

Carey: London right now and the UK are probably a little bit further ahead of where pharmacy is in a practice point of view—Canada is, too—than the US but I’ve seen more growth in the US market in the last six months than in the last five years. In other parts of the world, we have pharmacists that are prescribing; they sit with patients, prescribe medications and have a very different role in that whole medication therapy piece with patients and in helping patients manage their own self-care.


This interview has been edited and condensed.