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    Missouri R.Ph. finds success in alternative medicine

    He could see what people wanted, then he just gave it to them. That's the secret of marketing--seeing where the shifts are coming and doing it ahead of time."

    Although pharmacist Don Grove is talking about the successes of McDonald's founder Ray Kroc, he might be describing himself. Even as many independent R.Ph.s are struggling to stay afloat, Grove is reaping the rewards of his N2 Health program, a hybrid of smart marketing, education, and one of the hottest topics in health care today: alternative medicine.

    Grove is now selling N2 Health to other pharmacists after a stunning success at his own store in Warsaw, Mo. The program educates--and excites--both patients and physicians about the alternative resources to be found at their local pharmacy. Available through his marketing company, Innovative HealthCare Specialists (IHS), the three-pronged strategy includes an in-store promotion, a physician-friendly educational series, and community newsletters.

    The most visible component of N2 Health, the in-store promotion, works through smart product placement. One corner of Grove's 8,500-sq. ft. store is devoted to alternative medicine, with product banners and shelf stickers that people can read as they wait for prescriptions. And beside the pick-up counter, Grove has one of every alternative product he sells, along with informational leaflets describing specific products. He uses the display as a show-and-tell, suggesting complements to patients' Rxs.

    "For every patient who gets a prescription, we recommend a product," he explained. For example, he suggests echinacea for patients being treated for upper respiratory tract infections, while patients picking up antibiotics learn the benefits of taking acidophilus to minimize side effects. "My clerks go through the information with them while they're standing there and give them the opportunity to purchase the extra product. I make more money off the acidophilus than I do off managed care third-party payments."

    Grove said that 80% of patients buy the N2 Health products suggested. Many more, after experiencing side effects or unsatisfactory results with conventional medicines, return to give his recommendation a try. All of the products have a money-back guarantee, he added, so patients are more receptive.

    Once they've ventured down the alternative medicine road for 10 products, patients can use frequent-shopper punch-cards to get the 11th N2 Health product free. Grove said that profits from these sales quickly pay for the cost of the in-store promotion. IHS charges $495 for the in-store component of N2 Health. The package sets up 1,000 patients, including banners and shelf stickers, pamphlets, bag stuffers, and the frequent-buyer punch-cards.

    Encouraging sales at the Rx counter is only part of the N2 Health strategy; recruiting local physicians is also key to the program's success, said Grove. "Physicians resist [alternative medicine] because they feel you're stealing their patients. I can educate them and stay on their side, like 'It's me and you, doctor, against all the press that's putting out bad stuff with good stuff. Somebody needs to get to the patients and tell them the true scoop.'"

    Three months ago, Grove began faxing physicians newsletter-style updates on specific supplements, using information from physician-oriented journals like the Journal of the American Medical Association. "They don't want to hear what Don Grove has to say, they want to hear what their peers have to say," he said. Each issue spotlights two herbs, one nutritional product, and one homeopathic product. Grove said he's already seeing positive results. "Physicians are actually writing prescriptions for things like echinacea and glucosamine."

    Other pharmacies have now signed up for the faxed educational series component of N2 Health. Grove sends each issue to subscribing R.Ph.s to review, then customizes it with their pharmacy name and faxes it to 20 physicians of their choosing. The program costs pharmacies $1,000 a year or $100 a month.

    Grove also puts out a quarterly newsletter geared toward patients and charges $195 per quarter for 1,000 newsletters. He started making the newsletter available to other pharmacists after seeing how well it worked in his own community. He targets baby boomer households for mailings, believing that their high median incomes and active lifestyles make them more likely to try alternative products.

    Grove noted that about two dozen pharmacies are already enrolled in all or part of the N2 Health program. He expects those numbers to grow steadily, as more independent R.Ph.s realize that the key to surviving will be in value-added services such as his comprehensive alternative medicine program.

    To sign up or learn more about the N2 Health program, pharmacists can call Innovative HealthCare Specialists at (816) 438-7331.