Changing how pharmacy is perceived today
Covid-19 has changed how the public access healthcare. Now we need to collectively ensure that patients understand what modern community pharmacy is about, says Mike Holden, Deborah Evans and Gavin Birchall, introducing Pharmacy Cares.
According to a recent NPA survey1, 81 per cent of the public hold a favourable view of community pharmacy and 89 per cent believe pharmacies are playing an essential role in the Covid-19 crisis. In a similar PAGB survey2, almost one in three people (31 per cent) who would not have normally visited a pharmacy for advice said they were more likely to do so following the pandemic.
Seven out of 10 respondents (69 per cent), who might not have considered self care as their first option before the pandemic, said they were more likely or likely to do so in future. However, in order to meet these needs we must tackle the problems we are all facing.
Problem 1: Public awareness
Community pharmacy is excellent at many tasks, particularly supplying medicines safely and efficiently. However, with the exception of campaigns such as the NPA’s Ask Your Pharmacist, we have not found a way to routinely and collectively promote ourselves.
We need to recognise that investing in how pharmacy is perceived is part of the long-term solution. For that, self-awareness is key. The recently published Wright Review3 calls for a national external communications strategy to improve perceptions of the sector alongside a national vision and strategy. Not since Pharmacy Voice was disbanded have we seen this ambition.
As a community of professionals, we need to own that ambition and act on it ourselves. Only then can we hope to raise awareness amongst the rest of society with any substantive positive impact.
Problem 2: Uniformity
Despite having more similarities than differences, we have been unable to promote a consistent view of what we, consumers and commissioners want us to be known for.
Collaboration and integration are words written throughout the NHS Plan and pharmacy’s contractual framework like a stick of rock and will be critical for the future of the sector. Locally, this will be at PCN level and nationally with the pharmacy organisations working closely together.
Working collaboratively provides greater strength for pharmacy as a whole, rather than the wasted energy and distractions that occur by competing amongst ourselves. Building confidence to stand for what we believe in and fighting for community pharmacy at all levels will require persistence, strong leadership and advocacy.
Problem 3: Consistency and messaging
There are as many versions of a patient experience in community pharmacy as there are community pharmacies. The provision of different services depending on location and business model leads to variability in the perception of pharmacy in the minds of the public and commissioners.
It is hard to promote something with an offer that changes depending on where and how you access it. We struggle to generate messages that apply to all. Partly that’s down to postcode commissioning, partly down to different business models and partly down to variance in quality of delivery.
Excellent consumer experience is what brings people back to any service provider but the whole sector gets tarred with the same brush if that experience is not great. Having a clear and consistent vision, strategy, value proposition and pharmacy brand will give us all a benchmark to aspire to and measure ourselves against.
Strong brand messaging will support the development of the sector and enable rather than hinder ambitions.
Problem 4: Our role
The safe supply of medicines is of critical importance for patients and the NHS. It is something that we own, but for how long? Dispensing alone is unlikely to be a sustainable model and we’ve seen a recent downturn in service delivery. This, together with a pause in implementing the roll-out of the five-year community pharmacy contractual framework (CPCF), could undermine our ambitions for a more service-led role.
With lower footfall, many pharmacies have also seen a reduction in their OTC sales. A lack of effective digital and technology solutions, and out-of-date legislation such as wet-signature consent, has also held us back.
Building on the lessons from the pandemic is an opportunity that must not be missed. Our core strength of the safe supply of medicines can be used to build associations with other services in the minds and hearts of the public.
There is an opportunity to become recognised as a leading provider of accessible healthcare. Health protection through an extended vaccination service and other prevention and detection services is a good first step. These services have to be delivered consistently and to the same high standard across all pharmacies.
Problem 5: Symbols and brand
There isn’t a unifying symbol for community pharmacy that represents us all beyond a green cross that is not uniformally used. Symbols and the brands they stand for need nurturing and investment. With the traditional green cross losing value, we have no way of building associations in the minds of the public with the brand of pharmacy that will last and support us for decades to come.
We must create a dialogue between pharmacy, patients, communities, other health and care providers and commissioners about community pharmacy’s value proposition. Adopting a unified brand across the whole sector promotes a patient-centric rather than pharmacy-centric approach.
Collectively, we can use a narrative to extol the benefits to patients, other providers and commissioners of using pharmacy within their communities.
By working together to actively promote pharmacy to our patients and public, we can go some considerable way to implementing the solutions above.
Pharmacy really cares
Pharmacy Cares is an initiative that aims to raise awareness of what community pharmacy does and can do for patients and communities. It is patient-centric rather than pharmacy-centric. It is a growing group of pharmacists who want to share high quality information about how pharmacists and their teams help people, day in, day out. The more people involved, the more successful it will be, says Mike Holden, one of the founders. If you want to help shine a spotlight on pharmacy, then join in and help to promote it:
• Whenever you write, post or tweet about community pharmacy, use the hashtag #pharmacycares
• Access free-to-download digital resources from the Pharmacy Cares website and use them on your website, in your public communications through social media and as posters
• Contribute to the Stories page on the website using examples of what you and your team have done for your community
• Feed back ideas on what Pharmacy Cares should focus on.