Q & A – Julie Thomas, VP, Priority Dispatch

Pharma – Delivering Peace of Mind


CLDA Board Member Julie Thomas spends her days looking past the horizon for the next trend.  As a life-long student of strategic planning, she understands the importance of strategy development and execution. Several years ago her company’s customer base was heavy on bank work, reflecting the extensive needs of a paper-fueled financial system. As this vertical reduced its reliance on paper transactions, the need for courier work dropped. Through the strategic planning process, her company’s Executive Team analyzed the market and identified rapidly growing verticals. One of these was pharmaceutical delivery. And while Priority Dispatch had been doing some work in this vertical, it’s taken on more prominence for them in the past six years. Today, pharma work accounts for the majority of Priority’s top 20 accounts.


We asked Julie about the unique demands of this rapidly growing vertical:

Let’s start with the basics.  What does pharma work include?

Most of our pharma work is for pharmacies that supply long-term care facilities like nursing homes, hospitals, rehab centers and hospice facilities.  We deliver what we call “quality of life” medications.  They range from medicated creams to narcotics.  

What makes this vertical unique?

You can get behind this much more personally than, for example, delivering office supplies.  You are supporting quality of life.  You are directly impacting the people lying in those beds.  The Independent Contractors  we use to make those deliveries get “warm and fuzzy” feelings from being a part of something that’s so personal.  We get buy-in from our Contractors as well as the associates in our organization on just how important this work is.

Also, the nature of the work is particularly appealing to our Fleet because it’s dependable.  It’s a more stable work environment.  They know where they are going every today and what they are delivering, whereas with something like office supplies they could be delivering anywhere, any product, any time. 

In pharma, you’re delivering to a set group of facilities daily and you know many of the people you come in contact with.  There’s a trust between the independent drivers and the nurses at those facilities.  They count on us.  And because they see them more often than the pharmacy staff does, they become the face of our customer to their customers.   

The products you’re delivering also makes this a unique vertical.  Sometimes you’re dealing with pharmaceuticals that have to be refrigerated so they don’t spoil.  Many times, you’re dealing with narcotics.  That means there’s a DEA chain of custody you have to maintain.  When we pick our IC partners in this vertical we choose those who are able to understand these unique issues.  In addition, there are security issues they need to understand.  If, for example, we’re delivering what are called Emergency Drug Kits, these have a street resale value that’s significant.  Clearly that calls for a high level of vigilance when it comes to security.

Talk more about orienting Independent Contractors to the unique customer needs of this vertical.

The issues involved are complex and dynamic.  We make sure our Independent Contractors are well aware of the requirements and developments that apply to our customers and the pharmaceutical deliveries.

We do quarterly in-service meetings where we run through our standard operating procedures.  We’re orienting them on requirements for dealing with blood-borne pathogens and we’re reminding them of HIPAA issues.  

Then there’s that chain of custody issue.  We have an extensive automated system that integrates seamlessly with the client’s systems.  It allows us to provide continuous communication between our company and our customer.  Those pharmacies depend on this.  In this aspect, data trumps delivery.  Our clients need constant communication.  Our ICs need to understand this.  They need to know how we manage our clients’ data and how critical that is to the relationship.

What advice would you give to a delivery company interested in entering this vertical?

You need to be prepared to learn about a whole new world.  It’s a completely different model than how we used to do business. If you’re going to get into Pharma, be prepared to be uncomfortable for a while.  It’s complex.  The reporting is extensive and the need to understand the changing DEA regulations is critical.  

This is immediate work.  We do a lot of “stat” work, that is urgent or rush deliveries.  You can’t pick up the product and deliver it sometime between 8-5.  It’s This is about picking it up by 8:00 a.m. and delivering it by 9:00 a.m.

What do you see as the future of the pharma vertical?

We expect continued opportunity.  With the aging of the population, the need for these types of deliveries will continue to expand.  We’ve seen that play out in our state, Ohio.  In the past, we were a manufacturing state.  Ohio has been a global industrial center since the late 19th century.  But today, healthcare is our second most important industry.  We’re bringing in businesses from all over the world to support our healthcare industry.  And they are now teaching healthcare professions in the schools instead of manufacturing.

Is there something else about doing this kind of work that attracts your company?

It fits with our vision statement, “Delivering peace of mind.”  It aligns with our mission and our company.  It’s nice when a vertical fits so perfectly with your intrinsic purpose.  It makes it more than a job.


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