There is a revolution happening in North American medicine. If successful, it will educate and empower consumers, introduce us to a world of new cures, and leave most of us wondering, 'Why didn't we do this 50 years ago?'
I'm talking about the integrative model of pharmacy, personified by companies like Pharmaca in the US, and Finlandia and Pure in Canada.
"There is a terrific pharmacy model in the US. And for years, it lived in a parallel universe alongside the vitamin shop model and the natural remedy model," says Mark Panzer, President and CEO of Pharmaca. "At Pharmaca, we just put it all together in a way that made sense."
Pharmaca has demonstrated the market power of this common sense, scaling from one pharmacy in Boulder to 23 stores in Colorado, New Mexico, California, Oregon and Washington State.
Panzer attributes the success not to stocking shelves with products running the gamut from conventional pharma to natural remedies and homeopathy. Instead, it's about creating crossover expertise.
The common US model is one pharmacist, and a bunch of clerks stocking shelves. In our case, we have the highly trained pharmacist, but also highly skilled practitioners with homeopathic or naturopathic backgrounds. No one expert has the full answer. Instead, we collaborate to offer our customers a more holistic approach to managing their health.
Just The Facts (And The Care) Ma'am
Speaking with Bob Mehr, President of Pure Pharmacy in Vancouver, the importance of evidence-based remedies becomes apparent.
Up to now, there's been a polarization between advocates of traditional and conventional pharmacy. We believe the way forward lies in using treatments that are backed by evidence, regardless of their origin.
Mehr says the only path to mass-market acceptance of integrative medicine will be with evidence. "I want to get rid of the whole east meets west stereotype. This isn't about east meets west. It's about getting the best product, or combination of products, for our customers. And those products come with proof of efficacy."
The evidence-based model of integrative medicine is de facto in Europe. In Germany, for example, pharmacists at the 'Apotheke' feel completely comfortable prescribing conventional pharma, along with herbal and homeopathic supplements to augment recovery.
They're much more common sense about it. There's no dogma getting in the way of helping people regain their health, no I believe vs you believe. It's just about helping customers.
That said, Mehr emphatically points out that compassion -- an intangible asset -- is an equally important part of the prescription.
"If you look at pharmacies, they've unwittingly set up a barrier to compassion," Mehr says, referring to the glass-walled, elevated-floor pharmacy model. "We want to create a culture where we listen, really listen, to our customers. When they feel their health is our only concern, we'll already be making a great stride forward."
Creating Vitality, Not Just Curing Sickness
Dr. Janice Wright, director of clinical services at InspireHealth cancer center, thinks the current North American model of healthcare needs recalibration.
We've created a system that's all about sick-care, not health-care. We cure illness without digging deep into the cause of the illness.
InspireHealth has been internationally recognized for its progressive, holistic approach to cancer care. "We believe 100% in the cancer care offered by Western medicine. But enduring wellness is much more likely if the patient adopts a vital, higher level of health."
To that end, InspireHealth helps patients create psychological, spiritual, nutritional and physical change as they undergo their cancer treatment. "If stress, bad diet and lack of exercise caused your cancer, then you need to get rid of those things to keep the cancer from coming back" says Wright.
The beauty is, these simple lifestyle changes can help build up the immune system to prevent the cancer from progressing or recurring.
Who Will Own The Brand?
Integrative medicine may be making great strides. But at least in North America, it's still in its infancy.
Its rise to prominence seems certain, given the perfect storm of aging boomers, an overburdened healthcare system, and a young generation that could end up dying before their parents because of childhood obesity and chronic diseases related to this condition.
But getting ahead of the curve may prove difficult for large drugstore chains, as their expertise base is heavily skewed toward conventional pharmacy, and their model is high volume, low profit. Given this model, introducing expert practitioners from naturopathy or homeopathy to empower patients with information may prove difficult.
This, however, opens the door for companies who can create a new model, backed by the power of ecommerce and online expertise.
Both Panzer and Mehr believe in the power of online interconnectivity as a source of greater expertise, knowledge sharing with customers, and distributing a greater range of product.
The beauty of this model is, it isn't constrained by traditional bricks and mortar scalability issues.
The Brand Lessons
Speaking with Mehr and Panzer, I began to understand that the brand of integrative medicine demanded a shift in perspective. Instead of creating an omnipotent pharmacist, their models relied on collaboration. This bodes well for any integrative medicine brand that can open its doors to feedback, information sharing, education and ongoing learning.
Another lesson learned: patients are ready for the change, and just need to be given the tools; the successful integrative medicine brand will enable them, and make it easy for them to adopt change. Consumers have already demonstrated a penchant for absorbing new information and becoming more responsible for their own health. The increased coverage of health issues in mainstream media has only fueled the hunger.
Finally, I believe the successful integrative medicine model demands getting outside the jar. We've become comfortable with our model of pharmacy, and see small incremental changes as revolutionary. Unless we get outside, objective eyes on the problem, we won't move forward fast enough. Will we be able to develop an innovative way to shift from customer treatment to customer empowerment? Will we be able to create collaboration effectively? Or will our competition jump the curve ahead of us, and beat us to the integrative health brand of the future?