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As a member of the pharmacy community, you probably don’t need to be sold on the importance of engaging public officials. Members of Congress and state legislatures impact nearly everything pharmacists do and having representatives familiar with things we care about is vital to long-term success. But without high-priced professionals, how do pharmacists make that happen?

First, Identify Targets for Advocacy

You may have guessed that getting to know your U.S. Representative and Senators would be helpful, and you would be correct. However, they may not be the most important audience for your advocacy efforts.

Each member of the House employs a district director, and each Senator has a state director. These are the people who manage the members’ local offices spread around the district (House members) or the state (Senators). They are the eyes and ears of the member and regularly communicate with other very important staff members in the organization, such as the chief of staff and legislative director. They’re key policy advisors, trusted by the member of Congress to give advice on how to vote and which amendments to support or oppose. State legislators normally have equivalent staff to perform these functions.

There are other officials worth cultivating relationships with, too. Consider the mayor of your city or the supervisors of your township or county. Since these officials almost always have connections to members of Congress, they can be very effective in helping you advocate for issues that benefit you as a local professional with roots in the community.

The list could go on, but you get the idea. Nurture that group of people who are able to bolster your advocacy with the legislators who represent you in Washington, DC, and your state capital.

Getting Started with Pharmacy Advocacy

Before we go fully digital, there are a few analog (in person) steps to get things started. The first is to arrange a meeting, most likely a tour of your pharmacy – it’s an interesting and useful way to break the ice. Most of the people on your list are not familiar with LTC pharmacy, so they’ll be motivated to attend. I have arranged dozens of such pharmacy tours over my career and few members ever turned down an invitation to come and see for themselves what we do.

Pharmacy tours are more art than science. Just remember your purpose is to demonstrate what you do for the benefit of the people you serve, who happen to also be constituents of the people you will be hosting. Make certain that when you send invitations you include the district or state director and perhaps a nursing home administrator who would enjoy some quality time with your guests. They will remember you!

Going Digital with Advocacy
Once you’ve hosted pharmacy tours, you can begin your digital work. This starts with a follow-up note, thanking attendees for coming and including a couple of points you made during the tour. Oh, you did collect email addresses, right?

From then on, you begin an organized effort to keep your business in front of the policymaker. While the tour can be a memorable event, it has a relatively short half-life. If you don’t refresh the experience with regular follow-up, it will be forgotten, and you’ll need to start again.

You have lots of options to maintain and develop relationships with these influential people. Digital technology provides avenues like regular newsletters, webinars on the latest issues or technology affecting LTC residents, and white papers that explain complicated policy issues and offer solutions. There are also social media channels, including Twitter and Instagram, that can help maintain your visibility.

Keep Advocacy Relevant and Regular

While much of what we want to communicate relates to government policies we find both helpful and potentially harmful, recall the purpose for building these relationships is to encourage people in power to care about you. So, sure, you’ll want to touch on the latest frustrations brought to us by the misbehavior of PBMs and health insurers, but don’t forget to pass along more “human” insights.

Think about the celebrations for employees’ anniversaries, the interactions you have with nursing home staff and residents, and other ordinary yet impactful occurrences.

The other key is regularity. Send a newsletter or a friendly note at least once per month and consider inviting key staff to drop by when you plan company events. Keep it up, and don’t be surprised when you get a call from a congressperson’s office asking how a government policy affects your pharmacy.

X Factors in Digital Advocacy

Focus on the analog (that is, real life) first. Invite key officials and staff members to your pharmacy for a tour.
Follow up with a thank you and keep communicating, at least once per month, to make yourself and your pharmacy sticky.
Regularly reevaluate who you can add to your list of helpful collaborators.

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Written by: Paul Baldwin, Baldwin Health Policy Group
Paul’s pharmaceutical industry experience in public and government affairs led to becoming Executive Director of the Long Term Care Pharmacy Alliance, helping lead the industry through the Medicare Modernization Act and creation of the prescription drug benefit. Paul was VP of Public Affairs for Omnicare before founding Baldwin Health Policy Group.

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