Drive-through pharmacies becoming common

July 18, 1997


Staff Writer

You won't be able to get a burger and fries at the new drive-through on Eastern Boulevard but you will be able to pick up blood pressure medicine and antibiotics.

On July 30, Hagerstown Pharmacist Lowell Showalter will open a Medicap Pharmacy franchise with a drive-through at 180 Eastern Boulevard North.

Drug stores increasingly are offering a variation on what fast-food restaurants invented and banks later adopted - drive-through service for prescription drop-off and pick-up.


"It's been a fairly acceptable trend across the country," Maryland Board of Pharmacy President and Hagerstown pharmacist David Russo said.

Some other Tri-State area pharmacies that include drive-throughs are the CVS in the North Village shopping center, at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Longmeadow Road, the Home Care pharmacies on Antietam Street in Hagerstown and Jefferson Boulevard in Smithsburg and the Jefferson Pharmacy in Ranson, W.Va.

The Rite Aid pharmacy in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., has a drive-through window, as will two new stores in Shepherdstown, W.Va., and Martinsburg, W.Va., Rite Aid Pharmacist Ken Reed said.

"I think the pharmacy business is changing," Russo, a pharmacist at The Medicine Shoppe in Hagerstown, said. "I sometimes feel like a short-order cook" filling prescriptions while customers wait at the counter.

Convenience is the driving force behind the concept of drive-through service at pharmacies.

"We're moving that way because we're a convenience-based society," Southcentral Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association President David Grant said.

"People are pressed for time. It's a convenience factor," agreed Rick Swalwell, vice president of marketing for the West Des Moines, Iowa-based Medicap Pharmacies Inc.

A drive-through window allows senior citizens, the ill and disabled and parents with young children to pick up their prescriptions "real fast, in and out," without having to leave their cars, Swalwell said. Medicap pioneered drive-through pharmacies in the early 1980s, he said.

The 26-year-old company now has 170 pharmacies open or under development in 37 states, Swalwell said.

At some of those stores, up to 40 percent of the business comes from the drive-through window, he said.

Showalter said he's not worried about feeling rushed to quickly fill prescriptions while cars line up in the drive-through.

"That doesn't reduce the amount of care we give our prescriptions," Showalter said.

If a customer drives up with a prescription to be filled, Showalter said he'll ask them to pull over and wait.

"We'll just tell people you can't have it in 10 seconds," he said.

But the fast-food image associated with drive-throughs worries some pharmacists.

"The down side is the public perception. We want to be perceived as the health professionals that we are. When people hear drive-through they think of fast food. We need to rise above that," Grant said.

Another concern for some pharmacists like Russo is whether a drive-through will allow customers the opportunity to consult with their pharmacist about medications.

But Grant, a pharmacist at Chambersburg (Pa.) Hospital with six years experience in retail pharmacy, said customers actually may have more private, face-to-face contact with a pharmacist at the drive-through window than when standing in line behind four or five people at a drug store counter.

"It depends on how it's run," Grant said. "It can be run in a very professional manner."

Showalter's pharmacy has a special room reserved for what Medicap calls its "counseling by appointment" program. There, customers can consult with a pharmacist about their medication regimens, possible side effects and drug interactions and other health questions, Swalwell said.

This is an especially important service for many senior citizens who may be taking multiple medications prescribed by several different doctors, he said.

A 30-minute individual session with a Medicap pharmacist typically costs $35, Operations Services Manager Brad Amrhein said.

While Showalter is banking on the drive-through's convenience to attract some customers, his 1,500-square-foot store also will sell over-the-counter medications, products for diabetics and vitamins in a traditional drug store setting for walk-in customers, he said.

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