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Drug chains play vital role in market.

NEW YORK -- Home health care is a category that generates consistent customer traffic and produces relatively high margins for many chain drug operators.

Pharmacists play a key role as educators and advisers for patients, since medical devices used in home care usually work in conjunction with prescription medications and other drug store merchandise. Although home health care suppliers have made vast improvements in simplifying and clarifying instructions and other information about their products, patients still frequently call on pharmacists with specific questions. As a result, many drug chains merchandise home health care products adjacent to or in their pharmacy departments.

One problem faced by retailers in the trade class is space. Because of the size and bulkiness of wheelchairs and other home medical equipment, shelf space and even entire departments can sometimes be inadequate.

Happy Harry's Discount Drugs has responded to that dilemma by operating separate home health care centers that are situated next to its drug stores. Currently, three such facilities are in place, each of which averages around 2,500 square feet.

"Unless there are people there who really know the products it doesn't benefit a retailer much," says president and chief executive officer Alan Levin. "This category really requires specialization and a full-time commitment."

Happy Harry's Health Care Inc. president Darrell Foreman adds that home health care retailers must be familiar with issues ranging from delivery procedures to optional equipment to third-party billing.

A large part of the dollar volume in the company's home health care outlets -- which carry products ranging from diabetes monitors to items for urological and wound care -- comes from the sale of respiratory devices; durable medical equipment is also in great demand. A special feature of the Happy Harry's stores is the private fiNing rooms they provide for patients purchasing prosthetic devices.

Eckerd Corp. takes a different approach. The drug chain has equipped some of its outlets with home health departments operated by Life Care Medical Products Inc. Although the Eckerd stores with such centers continue to make their pharmacists available, customers can also call on the expertise of nurses. Laboratory testing and fittings for orthotic devices are other services that the home health care departments provide.

In addition, the centers have personnel available to handle insurance claims and questions on the government's Medicare and Medicaid programs. Last year home infusion therapy services were added to the Life Care centers. Those services are provided by National Medical Care Inc., a firm that teaches people how to manage medical treatment in their homes.

All of Eckerd's home health departments are located in stores in Florida, a state in which other drug chains have had success with the category. One of them is Corner Drug Store, which has done particularly well with a number of items dealing with diabetes care, durable medical equipment and incontinence products.

American Drug Stores is also committed to the home health care category. It operates three freestanding home health care units and is considering expanding the concept. In addition, expansive home health care sections are common in many of the company's Osco Drug outlets.
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Title Annotation:home health care
Publication:Chain Drug Review
Date:May 15, 1995
Previous Article:Home health care emerging as a potent category.
Next Article:Pharmacy key element in long-term care.

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