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Left behind: here’s what we need to do...

The future of community pharmacies is in danger. They need the tools to adapt and thrive, says Santosh Sahu, founder and chief executive of pharmacy tech company Charac.

Community pharmacies are integral to protecting our nation’s healthcare system. They should be more important than ever but instead are being allowed to fall behind both digitally and financially. 

NHS waiting lists were at a record 6.73 million in June, leaving patients waiting for an average of 13.3 weeks. Even booking appointments is difficult – patients are spending up to 48 minutes on hold to speak to their GP surgery.

Pharmacies have the ability to ease the burden on the NHS, providing medication and diagnoses to patients without needing to see their GP. However, a lack of awareness of these services coupled with a dearth of digitisation means that patients are unable to use pharmacies to their full potential.

In July, the NPA urged the future prime minister to support a ‘pharmacy first’ approach to make patient care more accessible and provide improved funding for community pharmacies. This will not only allow pharmacies to deliver crucial services to meet the needs of patients but improve awareness of their role and, crucially, accelerate digital transformation.

Digital services are being utilised more than ever – there are now 28 million users of the NHS App, with 22 million coming in the last year – but many pharmacies lack online services that can help simplify processes for pharmacists and make healthcare more accessible for patients. Some ideas pharmacies could implement take a hybrid digital and in-person model, such as click-and-collect or delivery apps. 

Time saving processes are also important, such as shared digital supply records of medicines or patients with GPs, which helps digitise and improve the network between pharmacies and the NHS and frees up time for pharmacists to focus on revenue-boosting work such as consultations and testing.

Tackling inequalities

Consultations and testing can also be adapted for remote care and prescriptions. With pharmacists now having the power to refer patients to cancer specialists based on red flag symptoms, improving availability of care is essential. 

Healthcare accessibility remains an issue in the UK, with many patients living in remote areas or in regions where GPs are oversubscribed. Over a third of the 650 pharmacies that have closed in the last six years have been in the most deprived parts of the country. Delivering digital services can help rectify this, and tackle inequalities and improve accessibility across the country.

One such platform helping with digitising community pharmacies is Charac, which uses technology to assist with a variety of healthcare services, including advertising, booking appointments or ordering medicine.

Platforms such as Charac’s patient management system keep records of prescriptions and consultations all in one place, making the lives of pharmacists, patients and even GPs easier. Charac has also worked to improve the supply of medicines to patients – its integration with NHS IM1 and recent collaboration with Royal Mail has allowed pharmacies to order repeat prescriptions and even have prescription services delivered to patients’ doorsteps.

Digital platforms can help simplify and modernise pharmacy offerings. With technology accelerating faster than ever before, these services have an important role to play. Platforms that work alongside community pharmacies can reduce the workload of pharmacists, improve accessibility for patients, and remove healthcare inequalities. 

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