Sales of diabetes products are skyrocketing -- expected to more than double from $2.3 billion in 1994 to $5.6 billion by 2001 -- and supermarket pharmacies can increase their share of them.
The key, according to some industry observers, is strengthened and more creative patient counseling and education programs. Such services may not instantly increase revenues, but could have other types of benefits -- mainly increased customer loyalty.
"The opportunities for pharmacies are numerous. If you [offer programs] with pizzazz, you'll have patients coming back to you," said Keith Campbell, associate dean and professor of pharmacy practice at Washington State University, College of Pharmacy, Pullman, Wash. Campbell led a discussion on diabetes at the National Association of Retail Druggists' annual conference in Las Vegas last month. Retailers can make an average of $700 per patient per year selling over-the counter drugs and devices to diabetes patients, according to Campbell. But in order to capture these sales, they need to get more involved in patient education. If patients are counseled more thoroughly, they'll be more apt to control their disease. Studies show that only one of every 10 diabetes patients has been through a complete diabetes education program, Campbell said. For the year ended September 1995, blood glucose products generated $55.2 million in sales at food stores, a 10% increase over the year before, according to Towne-Oller & Associates, New York. Sales of blood glucose strips went up 19% to $46 million, while urinary test strips increased 5% to $1 million.
One of the reasons the diabetes market can be profitable is that it covers both prescription and over-the-counter purchases. On the prescription side, there's tremendous potential for blood monitoring devices and aids. According to Frost & Sullivan, Mountain View, Calif., sales of these items will rise from a 39% share of total market revenues in 1994 to 54% in 2001.
"We have a lot of business out there, just in terms of blood glucose monitors," said Campbell. There's already been tremendous progress in increasing sales to Type 1 insulin-dependent patients. For example, in 1993, about two-thirds of Type 1 patients were testing their blood sugar, compared with just one-third in 1986, according to Campbell. This means that more patients are purchasing testing-related products.
There's also a great deal of opportunity in treating Type 2 patients. Currently, only about one-third are testing. Of these, most are only testing once a day.
"We have an opportunity to get people to test more often, keep track of results and know what to do with them," he said. "This is a role that pharmacists can and should take on."
The market for diabetes products extends much further than prescription products like insulin, lancets and hypoglycemic products such as glucose tablets. That's why it's important for pharmacists to have a comprehensive diabetes program that also covers related over-the-counter items, such as dental and foot care products, vitamins and nutritional supplements, travel kits, identification tags, analgesics, cough/cold, feminine hygiene and skin moisturizers. Along with the opportunities that prescription and OTC products bring, the industry is being spurred by a growing number of patients. About 650,000 people will be diagnosed this year, according to the American Diabetes Association.
But many more people should be getting diagnosed. According to the American Diabetes Association, more than half of an estimated 13 million people in the United States who have the disease aren't aware they do -- creating tremendous opportunity for pharmacists in the form of potential patients.
The number of patients could increase even more as many baby boomers start getting diagnosed. The fastest growing segment of the population, which consists of people between the ages of 45 and 54 years, is projected to grow 46% between 1990 and 2000, according to Frost & Sullivan. "What's going to happen when baby boomers reach their middle years? We're going to have an explosion of the disease state," Campbell said.