Pharmacists on track to be tracked October 29, 2018

Just when you thought the pharmacy world couldn’t get any wackier, bingo, it does.  This week the Canadian Healthcare Network ran the following headline:

“Shoppers Drug Mart (SDM) To Begin Tracking Pharmacy Performance”.

First of all it should be noted that this really is LOBLAW not “Shoppers Drug Mart”.  SDM has really become just a brand, a very powerful brand albeit, but it is LOBLAW, the owner of SDM, that controls and manages SDM.

Second, it is likely ‘pharmacists’ that they want to track not ‘pharmacies’.  Same old challenge separating a ‘pharmacist’ from a ‘pharmacy’.  We know what a pharmacist is, and a pharmacy is just a space (a retail store) with lots of stuff (most of it not health related) on shelves.  Pharmacies in Canada are overwhelmingly owned and controlled by non-pharmacists; in this case Loblaw Companies Limited which is a subsidiary of George Weston Limited, Executive Chairman & CEO, Galen Weston Jr., the most important and powerful pharmacy leader in Canada today.

How the heck do you track a pharmacy?  It is individual pharmacists that LOBLAW wants to track.  To separate the wheat from the chafe, and to set standards which become minimum requirements for continued employment.

As an aside, LOBLAW has 135,000 employees, the vast majority of which are represented by the United Food and Commercial Workers union.  I wonder what would happen if LOBLAW attempted to track performance measurements on even one of these 135,000?

So a more accurate headline might have read: ‘Loblaw To Begin Tracking Pharmacists’ Performance’

A great deal of negative reaction from pharmacists flooded this news, but one particular comment really captured the tragic comedy that the pharmacy profession has become, as the once proud profession has become totally controlled by non-pharmacist corporations, collectively referred to as Big Pharmacy Retail (BPR).

The comment, with minor editing:

“I was left alone on a Saturday night with no assistant from 5 PM onward. I was bombarded with blister pack change requests, drop in requests for the flu shot, phones ringing off the hook, and customer inquiries. At one point I had 7 people waiting at the pick-up counter and 3 people in line at the drop off with 2 phone lines ringing. I wonder what kind of rating I would have had from that night alone. No breaks, no help, no raise in 5 years. It’s a sad state for the retail pharmacist, and then SDM pulls this stunt with a service survey?”

Does anyone believe that this is the exception?  As retail margins and market share continue to come under fierce competitive pressures, and from frontal assaults by online shopping, the pressure to maintain profitability becomes intolerable. Hence, the pursuit to produce more revenues with less cost of production becomes the core driving force.  Those ‘district managers’ (aka the swat teams of the retail offensive) run on high adrenaline 24 hours a day

The immediate question surely must be, what exactly does LOBLAW want to track?  In the case of the example of the pharmacist quoted above, how much more productivity could be squeezed out of this one individual?  If it is quality of patient care that is being measured, how is this squared by the need to cut labour costs through cutting hours and not replacing personnel who quit?

While such efforts to track and measure pharmacists by LOBLAW (and Green Shield) become the new reality for working pharmacists, the Ontario College of Pharmacists (OCP) is also working on an initiative to establish quality indicators for pharmacy care.

Will these OCP inspired measurements or indicators conflict with the ones that LOBLAW demands?  How do the values and obligations of a healthcare profession dovetail with the imperatives of a massive retail conglomerate like Weston/LOBLAW?

In the interest of the mental health of pharmacists (in Ontario anyways), would it be reasonable to ask the Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA), who allegedly represent the interests of 10,000 members, to lead an initiative with the objective of creating a forum to bring together LOBLAW and the OCP to create a common set of measurements and indicators of success?   Please excuse my sarcasm.

Let’s keep this simple.  A ‘pharmacy’ does not legally exist unless there is a licensed registered graduate pharmacist on the premises, no matter whether it is an 800 square foot pharmacy, or a 200,000 square foot super mega drug food combo.  BPR believes it owns thousands of pharmacies, but really these are all just real estate/buildings which cannot even open their doors without a pharmacist present in the building.  Pharmacists remain the means of production.

Here is a suggested response to this initiative to track individual pharmacists’ performance based on arbitrary measurements, which make no sense in face of the already brutal working conditions most retail employee pharmacists working for BPR endure every day.

Ignore the whole thing.  Pull Martin Luther King Jr…peaceful protest.  The issue is one of control.  Control of the profession is long gone, (just don’t tell the OCP) but control of you as a person must remain with you.  Just do your job according to the obligations you undertook when you became a pharmacist to ensure maximum patient care.  Focus on your professional duties.  In the end they can’t fire everybody.


8 thoughts on “Pharmacists on track to be tracked October 29, 2018

    • Bureaucrats are experts at coating themselves with Teflon. They are never responsible and therefore never accountable. This kind of wordy obfuscation is typical of a bureaucracy who hold their prime mission to be their own self preservation.. .


  1. So Loblaw stores are unionized and so are most No Frills (these I think are franchises) so what prevents pharmacists from joining. Now that SDM is part of Loblaws I think this may be possible. Especially if OCP just answers us with just bureaucratic babble!

    Time to talk to the Canadian Labour Congress!


    • SDM long ago designed its business model in a way that makes it very difficult to unionize their stores.
      Each store, being a separate corporation, is considered a single bargaining unit. This means every store wound have to be unionized separately. This was tried in BC a number of years ago when SDM acquired Cunningham Stores and the effort failed.

      I am aware of recent discussions held here in Ontario with the UFCW union which failed to get very far because the union felt the effort to unionize would not be successful and so talks broke off.

      As well, it is likely that SDM has a swat team that moves in like a lightening bolt at the hint of any store attempting unionization. This is Loblaw’s greatest fear. Present labour relations within the Loblaw group are not that great.


      • There was draft legislation in Ontario that if one franchise location unionized it would be possible to unionize all franchised locations. I do not know what happened to this.

        So from what you stated above it is pretty hopeless.


  2. I agree. Most of my physician associates hate the OMA. But as bad as it is, in terms of representing the interests of independent practitioners, it’s a whole lot better than the OPA.

    Just look at the daily life of everyday unrepresented retail pharmacists working at BPR, and the reality that most have had compensation decrease of anywhere from 20 to 30 percent.

    I don’t see physicians taking a hair cut like that any time soon.

    Physicians have way more clout and so far; they do not have corporate interests subjugating them to the level of serfs. The grocery clerk working in a Loblaw store has better protection than the pharmacist working in the pharmacy. Soon they will be making the same hourly wage.


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