PHARMACIES: Chains Cater to HIV/AIDS Patients
CVS Corp. and other pharmacy chains are beginning to recognize the potential of a niche market that caters largely to patients who need specialty drugs, luring customers, including HIV patients, with well-stocked supplies and personalized service. CVS has been able to tap into that market with its ProCare stores by offering attentive pharmacists and medications that are "too expensive and too rarely requested to stock everywhere," such as those for HIV/AIDS, organ-transplant, cancer, fertility, hepatitis and other illnesses. Sales of specialty prescription drugs rose 198% from 1995 to 1999; HIV/AIDS treatments are "particularly lucrative" for specialty pharmacies, as sales from HIV/AIDS drugs increased from $245 million in 1995 to $2.5 billion last year, the Washington Post reports. The human growth hormone Serostim, which treats AIDS wasting syndrome, is just one HIV/AIDS drug that is expensive because generic equivalents have not yet been developed. For example, a week's worth of Serostim costs pharmacies $1,446, according to Stephen Gendin of Community Prescriptions Services Inc., a mail-order company for HIV/AIDS drugs. And even more common treatments, such as AZT, still "offer a profit margin that far exceeds the typical prescription filled at a CVS store."
ProCare is winning back former CVS customers who were turned off by long lines and impersonal service at the main stores. A CVS survey revealed that the typical specialty-drug customer makes only two visits to CVS and then never returns. "[It's] not the most personalized environment," CVS spokesperson Todd Andrews said. One HIV patient who takes 500 pills a week said he "grew tired of his CVS store's out-of-stocks, long lines and impersonal touch," but, after he recently spent an hour going over his HIV regimen with a ProCare pharmacist, said, "[T]hey have everything I need." The new ProCare stores, already at 25 different sites, are more of an "oasis" for patients; the atmosphere is more comfortable, and the pharmacists take their time with customers to explain medications, sort out insurance problems and answer questions. CVS officials hope to open about 125 ProCare pharmacies, but they will face steep competition from other chains, independent pharmacies and mail order services that want to get in on a market expected to grow by at least 20% a year (Brubaker, 5/9).