Inside a 450-square-foot corner of the Lucky’s Market in Bloomington, Indiana, Lester Burris ’12 and his partners, Steve Anderson ’91 and Josh Anderson ’07, are working to turn the pharmacy business on its head.
This is Panacea Pharmacy, which offers a proactive approach to healthcare. Rather than worrying about doing a volume business, they concentrate on patient care. They check in with customers to make sure they’re taking their medicines.
And, if they’re not, the pharmacists try to find out why. If necessary, they’ll call a patient’s doctor to talk about alternative treatments, so the patient isn’t waiting months or even a year for an approved appointment.
When patients are taking medicine from multiple prescribers, Panacea tries to serve as a communication hub for the patient and the doctors, “which a lot of pharmacies either don’t have time to do or are not willing to do,” Burris said.
And although Burris is the principal pharmacist—the Andersons are busy operating four other pharmacies in Bedford, Indiana—he even makes deliveries from time to time.
“We thought this was a unique fit, being in a health food store, where we thought we could impact people who wanted to make healthy decisions,” Burris said.
So far, it’s working: The partners said they have about 500 patients—a number they’re happy with—and business has increased every month.
Starting an independent pharmacy in Indiana is relatively rare. The Indiana Pharmacists Alliance said there are 160 independents throughout the state, but only one or two new ones each year.
The opportunity for Panacea came when Lucky’s Market—which bills itself as “organic for the 99 percent”—reached out to Health Mart, a collection of independent pharmacies, about opening a pharmacy in the Bloomington store. In December 2014, that request got passed along to the Andersons.
Josh Anderson looked into the Colorado-based Lucky’s chain and found out that, in addition to being a natural organic grocery store, it also has a vitamin/supplement line called Natural Living.
“It was a dream of mine from the time I was in the Self-Care class at Butler: to mix modern medicine—traditional medicine— with more of a holistic care approach and put it all under one roof,” Josh said.
Josh approached his uncle Steve with the idea. They knew they needed another partner to run Panacea on a day-to-day basis.
They asked Burris, a running buddy of Josh’s, who had worked for CVS and Kmart. Burris jumped at the chance.
“Working for a chain can be very demanding of your time and energy,” he said. “Here, you’re your own boss. If I need help, I hire it.”
Burris went into the venture with “a little bit of business training, but nothing official.” He learned on the fly about licensing, insurance contracts, and things like how many medicines to stock. (Panacea keeps a couple hundred on hand and can get more or less anything they need in a day.)
He said the biggest challenge in their first year has been making people aware that Panacea exists. Jonathan Piland, 34, discovered Panacea by accident when he walked into the store. “Of all the pharmacies out here, it’s the best one,” he said. “Lester and the company go out of their way for you. If they don’t have something, they find it. If you need to have something made, they make it for you.”
“It was a dream of mine from the time I was in the Self-Care class at Butler: to mix modern medicine—traditional medicine—with more of a holistic care approach and put it all under one roof,” Josh said.
Panacea sits in the rear of Lucky’s, beyond the gourmet meats and cheeses and behind aisles of vitamins and nutritional supplements. A couple hundred medicines are stacked on taupe-colored shelves that span the far wall. There’s a computer, a work area, and a machine the pharmacists use to specially package medicines.
Steve Anderson said what they’ve created “has been a little bit of a learning experience for all of us,” but he thinks it’s important for the future of healthcare.
“We’re taking care of the whole patient, spending time with the patient—getting back to patient-oriented pharmacy,” he said.