Richland pharmacy redefines customer service

Doctor’s Pharmacy has been making steady inroads within the Tri-City community through its customer service-focused business model since opening last year.

The pharmacy, at 65 Columbia Point Drive in the strip mall adjacent to Winco, joins only a handful of other privately-owned pharmacies in the area.

Over the years, privately-owned pharmacies have given way to chains tucked inside grocery, drug and discount stores, as well as mail-order pharmacies. The cost of doing business has trended upward while customer service has declined as costs are spread over fewer staff.

Doctor’s Pharmacy founder, Vijay Reddy, has worked for 27 years as a pharmacist on the East Coast and has observed the increasingly negative issues associated with picking up prescriptions: long wait times, miscommunication, medications out of stock, unprocessed medical pre-authorizations, prescriptions not coming through, impersonal interactions with pharmacy staff.

So he set about devising how to fix the problems.

The key? To set the bar higher on customer service.

“I’ve done retail all of my career before this,” said Tabitha Jaques, a Doctor’s Pharmacy technician who has worked in the field the past 18 years. “The industry has totally lost touch with the customer base and with the patient care side. It’s become a numbers game, which is miserable when you’re a care person.”

Fellow pharmacy tech Elia Vargas agreed: “I previously worked at a big chain and burned out. You really lose that customer connection because it’s so monstrous what they want you to do. … The main thing for me was customer service, which to me should be 110%. That’s what I began with – you know all the customers by name and their kids and aunts and uncles – but it gets to the point (in a conventional pharmacy) where you don’t even notice your own mom walk by.”

Business Development Officer Ashraf “Ush” Afzal explained the pharmacy’s goal simply: “We are trying to establish ourselves as the brand for customer care and customer service.”

Hassle-free experience

Doctor’s Pharmacy touts a “hassle-free pharmacy experience” and a return to the hometown pharmacy atmosphere where employees treat customers like family. It opened in January 2021.

“The customer has choices … if you don’t take care of them, they will go elsewhere,” Reddy said.

The Richland storefront features an open concept where customers can easily see and interact with all seven employees.

Steven Hemingway and Tabitha Jaques pose with “Dr. Fill,” Doctor’s Pharmacy’s machine which repackages multiple medications into rolls of perforated single-serving packets printed with the patient’s name and time of day to take. (Photo by Laura Kostad)

The pharmacy’s lead tech is dedicated to processing insurance pre-authorizations.

That’s why Dr. Earl Fox of Greater Columbia Bariatric Surgeons sends his patients there.

“I never send prescriptions for these medications to anywhere but Doctor’s, if I can help it, because a lot of times other places don’t bother to fill out the paperwork correctly or at all,” which can be the difference between a patient being able to get their prescription or not, Fox said.

Customers have the option of having their prescriptions, including freezer- stored medications, hand-delivered free of charge by a pharmacy employee to any location: home, work, soccer practice, etc. They have traveled as far as Moses Lake, but more commonly deliver between Prosser and Burbank.

Another free service is “med syncing.” They help synchronize all of a customer’s prescriptions so they only have to order once per month.

Doctor’s also offers a free pill packing service in which those medications are repackaged in one box in single serving packs on a reel. Each pack is printed with the date and time to take the medicine.

“They’re willing to give the patients a real break on the price,” Fox said.

Customer Debbie Campeau recalled receiving her late husband’s medications at no charge during a time when they could not afford them and was able to pay the balance back at her own pace.

When her husband died, “They not only sent me flowers. They came to my home to make sure I was OK and came to our funeral,” she said.

All employees are encouraged to take as much time as necessary to help their patients, no matter how long it takes, and are equipped with a work phone and individual number for customers, even Reddy.

“If you don’t feel special at my pharmacy at any time, call me,” he said.

What’s next?

Having gained so much positive traction over the past year and a half, what’s next?

Though Reddy and his executive team are investigating ways to expand Doctor’s service area and help those living in the smaller towns outside Tri-Cities, for now they are more focused on their first location.

“I want to help the community and start offering seminars on pharmacy-related topics, such as how to reduce the number of medications you take, and also continue participating in things such as drug takeback days,” Reddy said.

Since opening, Doctor’s Pharmacy has partnered with four municipalities to help facilitate drug takeback programs and also hosts a drug disposal bin year-round.

“They’re really good. I just can’t say enough. This is the place to go,” Campeau said.

Doctor’s Pharmacy: 65 Columbia Point Drive, Richland; 509-341-0000;  Hours: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday; Closed Sunday.

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