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Creating and executing an effective marketing program for a pharmacy is easier if you’re armed with market research that reduces uncertainties about market characteristics, demographics, and economic opportunities. Fortunately, some (free) help is available from government sources. Maybe not free, exactly, because you’ve already paid for it when you write your regular check to the IRS.

While the market research obtained from government sources won’t be tailor-made for your specific circumstances, it frequently provides valuable insights so fleshing it out through paid sources is less expensive.

First Steps

To identify what information you need, start with some broad parameters. Let’s consider a scenario where your objective is to operate a brick-and-mortar LTC pharmacy. This means your market research will primarily focus on a specific geographic area. You will probably want to determine how many potential customers are within your service area and what types of businesses they operate. For example, how many skilled nursing facilities (SNFs), home health agencies (HHAs), and hospice agencies are potential customers for your services?

Cover the Basics

This gives you a starting point. You’ll want to define your geographic scope and gather the names and locations of relevant facilities. Not surprisingly, one of the best places to begin is with the Census Bureau. As the nation’s premier demographic agency, it offers an abundance of tools to get you started. Not all of them are easy to navigate, so I recommend exploring the tutorials for assistance.

A useful tool provided by the Census Bureau is the Business Builder. With it, you can construct a geographic profile and then generate a custom table containing population, income, and industry statistics. While it may not provide all the information you want, its advantage lies in creating a general overview of the market area you defined. Prior to using it, be sure to take the tool’s tour, as it may take a few attempts to become proficient. However, the data obtained will offer you valuable top-line insights.

Now, let’s turn our attention to locating nursing homes. CMS has an impressive dataset of all nursing homes enrolled in Medicare. The dataset includes names, addresses, ownership information, and details on recent surveys. Simply sort the fields by city, zip code, or state to see which facilities are within your geographic target.

Moving on to home health agencies. CMS also maintains a dataset encompassing over 11,000 HHAs. This set offers location information along with quality data. Hospice files are also maintained by CMS, but it may take a few tries to get all the data you’re looking for. If there are other provider types you want to identify and locate, try the CMS Provider Data page.

What Else?

We’ve covered the basics for geography, demographics, and providers. This barely scratches the surface of federal resources available and doesn’t even consider the wealth of free information available in state databases. Remember that states license and regulate healthcare providers, so they have more information, but it may be less visible. However, don’t give up. The information is out there and it’s reliable.

Looking beyond government information, consider trade associations, both state and federal, for provider directories and resources on what’s top of mind for operators. The better you know your potential customers the more credible you will be in turning them into business partners.

What Next?

Once you gather most of the information and data you need from free resources, identify what you still don’t know but need to know. Just being curious enough to pick up the phone and engage with potential customers can pay dividends and establish your credibility.

If you really need to know something that you can’t get by asking, you may need to hire an online freelance researcher. When reaching out to them, be specific in your request and perhaps give them a low-cost test to see how well they come through. There are great folks out there on sites like Fiverr and Upwork. They can be invaluable in helping you move ahead but do your due diligence.

X Factors for Free Market Research Resources

  • Begin by defining your market research needs, including your objectives, market territory, and targeted prospective customers.
  • Explore state and federal regulatory agencies as valuable sources. They gather and maintain extensive volumes of data, much of which is considered public information.
  • Use your market research efforts to reach out to potential real prospective customers – giving them a chance to educate you.

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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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