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Profile of a Pharmacy Innovator: Sanjay Patel

From manufacturing, to corporation, to independent pharmacy, Dr. Patel has experienced many avenues of pharmacy practice. As Director of Pharmacy of Haller’s Pharmacy, a CSPEN-certified pharmacy based in Fremont, California, he shares his journey and brings hope to community pharmacy by addressing the needs of the patients and the profession.

What is your background and how did it lead you to pursue new areas of pharmacy?

I went to pharmacy school in India in the 80s, where most pharmacists worked in pharmaceutical industry. I went to work for a company that became part of Novartis, and was a lead pharmacist manufacturer there, then switched to Nordisk to manufacture insulins for a few years. Immigrating to the United States required more schooling, as pharmacy here is a different ball game compared to India. After earning my certification in the States, I worked for Walgreens for 25 years, starting as a technician and climbing up to be a pharmacy supervisor managing a large region. All of these years gave me a very well-rounded experience, as I learned about point-of-care testing and vaccine programs from working at Walgreens, and a background in manufacturing gave me the abilities to manage large projects with many people.

I then brought these programs and skills to Haller’s Pharmacy. The owner of the pharmacy was an old friend who asked me to take over as someone with lots of experience. I accepted with the terms of turning Haller’s from a dispensing-only pharmacy to one that is “next-level”, offering multiple services. Starting in 2019 with vaccination programs, we gave more flu vaccines in 1 year than what had been given in the last 5 years! Then COVID came. Haller’s already had a CLIA waiver at the start of the pandemic, so we planned to start point-of-care COVID testing. Unfortunately, compared to other states, California’s CLIA waivers are more restricted. So Haller’s, among other pharmacies, had to apply to the California Pharmacy Association to get Emergency Use Authorizations for various COVID tests. We also worked with various federal and state agencies for the COVID vaccine rollout. Haller’s helped a local mental health facility to get the residents vaccinated, as well as vaccination clinics for the county and for a local fire station too.

What have you learned through your career that has inspired new patient care models and/or services?

There is a need. There is a need for community pharmacies and the services they offer. When talking with patients, they do not see their doctors and get tests often enough to get the most out of their medications. Pharmacies are much more accessible than doctors’ offices, so use that accessibility by offering cholesterol testing, travel vaccines, and more. Through my Walgreens experience, I was able to take what I learned from a big corporation model and apply it to a small independent pharmacy to make these programs successful.

What are your goals/plans as Special Interest Group Chair for the California Pharmacy Association?

Listening to the concerns from friends in large and small chain retail pharmacies, they are overwhelmed and overworked, and lament not being able to do actual clinical work with their patients. The goal as Community Pharmacy Chair is to address these concerns. Last year, we sponsored a bill that eliminates quotas for retail pharmacists, which would put an end to how many adherence calls they have to make in a day. Since the number of COVID vaccines has been dwindling, budget and hour cuts have been hitting pharmacies hard. As Special Interest Group Chair, the plan is to address one to two of these issues each year to bring about changes to the practice.

What obstacles are there to your new initiatives and/or plans?

A big obstacle is the limitations put on pharmacists due to rules and regulations mandated by the California Pharmacy Association (CPA). Unlike other states, CPA is regulated by the Department of Consumer Affairs, so the consumer comes first. We had to battle for six months to get legislation for point-of-care testing in place. We also fought for legislation that requires pharmacies to staff a clerk or cashier so that the pharmacists are not running the whole business by themselves.

Another obstacle is affordability of training. Trying to get all of Haller’s pharmacists MTM-certified has been a struggle, as the training cost is roughly $400 per person and requires hours of study. This certification is necessary because unlike other states, California Medicaid requires an MTM certificate to be able to provide the service to eligible patients.

What advice would you give to pharmacy students who want to pursue a similar path?

You have to be comfortable starting from scratch if you want your new program to succeed, even though it can be challenging and difficult. School will teach you all of the clinical knowledge, but not how to set up a program, or how to write policies and procedures, all while staying in compliance with the law. It took me a month to write Haller’s policy and procedures for COVID testing. So shadow at pharmacies that offer training and experience or take a class on writing policies. Ask yourself, as a pharmacist, what can we do to make pharmacy better?

To learn more about Haller's Pharmacy, explore the following links:

Haller's Pharmacy