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Engaging ways: Pharmacist customizes prescriptions for delightful results

As Mary Poppins musically observed, “Just a spoonful of
sugar helps the medicine go down, in a most delightful way.”

As Mary Poppins musically observed, “Just a spoonful of
sugar helps the medicine go down, in a most delightful way.”

Pharmacist Dr. Diane Boomsma, owner of Custom Prescriptions
of Lancaster, helps make medicine more palatable to children and grownups
alike.

Custom Prescriptions, at 902 N. Duke St. in Lancaster,
is a compounding pharmacy, one of about 60 such drugstores in Pennsylvania.

Boomsma provides customized prescriptions that are more
palatable and effective for individual consumers. “Cooking with chemicals” is
how she described it.

“Not everyone responds to medicines in the same way,” she
said.

Patients may need smaller-than-standard dosages, medication
in liquid form rather than pills, or they may strongly dislike a standard
flavor. Others may react adversely to a standard ingredient; they might be
lactose intolerant or allergic to gluten or dyes.

Another benefit of pharmacy compounding: Boomsma can
formulate useful medications that have been discontinued because they are no
longer profitable for the drug companies.

Boomsma works closely with doctors and patients in a “triad
of care” to get better medical outcomes. For example, she works with
dermatologists and stocks creams and salves they want their patients to have –
a win-win outcome for all three parties.

About 50 percent of Boomsma’s business comes from working
with veterinarians. Like humans, animals can have special needs. Custom
Prescriptions adds beef, liver or chicken flavoring to canine medication, whips
up “triple fish” (sardines, salmon and tuna) feline concoctions, and adds
pineapple flavor for rabbits. Birds are attracted to medications by their
colors.

“I’m working with people, in cooperation with their doctors,
to improve and monitor their health, not just fill their prescriptions,”
Boomsma said.

Boomsma said she worries about people falling through the
cracks of the fragmented health care system or having questions that their
doctors haven’t answered. Drug interactions can lead to unintended medical
problems, too.

So Boomsma offers consultation services at her pharmacy. She
asks customers to bring their medications – including vitamins and other
supplements – and assesses how they may interact. Further, she’ll advise
customers of any changes to consider in light of their dietary patterns and
lifestyle.

She does three customer consultation a day and is booked a
month out. The initial charge is $90, with no cost for followups.

Boomsma offers high-quality, reasonably priced dietary
supplements. But customers can’t buy greeting cards, stationery, batteries or
film at Custom Prescriptions. That’s intentional. Boomsma started her own
business a year ago so she could focus on using her skills as a compounding
pharmacist. She’d been working at Williams Apothecary in Lancaster, where she developed its
compounding department.

She realized that her career was at its halfway point and
decided, “I might as well make my move.”

She launched her business with three colleagues from
Williams. People who know each other and work well together are a boon to any
business, especially to a startup trying to establish itself.

Boomsma works from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Monday through
Friday. Her husband, Merv Sands, has been a stay-at-home dad, raising their two
sons, now 10 and 13. He’s also the pharmacy’s deliveryman.

Compounding pharmacies require a big upfront investment in
equipment; Boomsma acquired microwave and convection ovens, an autoclave for
sterilization and a $7,500 powder hood to protect the pharmacist from exposure.

“I can’t really say we’re successful yet, but the growth
we’ve been experiencing is encouraging,” she said. “Working with customers puts
a smile on my face.”

Unlike pharmacists at large or chain store pharmacies, which
fill hundreds of prescriptions a day, she fills about 30 prescriptions daily.
She spends time with customers and tries to remember as much as she can about
their needs.

Boomsma doesn’t intend to get too big, but she is trying to
grow her business. She joined the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce and Industry,
participates in health fairs, started a Web site at www.customscripts.us and
encourages word-of-mouth marketing. To expand her network of referring doctors,
she sends a welcome package to new medical practices.

Custom Prescriptions does not accept medical insurance (and
some of her compounds are for medications that might not be covered). But
Boomsma works with doctors and patients to keep patient costs down. She said
her charges frequently are comparable to or less than standard medicines if
insurance deductibles are taken into account.

Boomsma takes very seriously the Pharmacist’s Oath,
including the section that obliges    a
pharmacist to “accept the lifelong obligation to improve my professional
knowledge and competence.”

She returned to school to obtain a doctor of pharmacy degree
from Shenandoah University and keeps up with her
profession’s continuing-education requirements. Next year she will become
president of the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists, which has
2,000 U.S.
members.

Diane Boomsma’s story offers useful lessons to all
entrepreneurs:

Identify who your customers are (and who they aren’t).
Boomsma is striving to serve a niche – customers seeking customized
medications. She’s not trying to compete with larger pharmacies and isn’t
wasting resources doing so.

Lifelong learning is important. Seminars from the
Professional Compounding Centers of America helped her extend her
services to animals.

Educate your customers. Participating in health fairs and
consulting with customers increases awareness of the usefulness of pharmacy
compounding and, potentially, the demand for her goods and services.

We commend Boomsma for a business concept that helps
customers and is good business, too.

Doug Bedell and Phil Landesberg, Central Pennsylvania-based
communication and business consultants, write about ways to invigorate
corporate and nonprofit organizations. Send ideas or suggestions for future
columns to [email protected] Contact the writers directly at [email protected]
or [email protected]

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