The public’s expectations are changing. Are you prepared?

Opinion

The public’s expectations are changing. Are you prepared?

Connecting with the public is key, so the adoption of automation and technology to deliver the convenience patients demand cannot come fast enough, says Gary Paragpuri, chief executive of Hub and Spoke Innovations

It’s a busy Friday afternoon before the bank holiday weekend. With increasing urgency, you hunt through a pile of tote boxes for an owing.

The patient glares as you’re distracted by another query. This time it’s someone unhappy that their medicines aren’t ready – because they’ve come a day early. You also know there’s an emergency supply to sort out before closing...

Dramatic as it may sound, this is not an unfamiliar scenario for the average hard-pressed community pharmacy team. Throw in a global pandemic, the pressure to constantly do more with shrinking resources and the looming threat from internet pharmacies, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that perhaps the future for community pharmacy isn’t so rosy.

But that doesn’t recognise pharmacy’s true value to the local communities it serves, and the millions of valuable interactions that pharmacy teams have with patients in the form of the advice, support and care that is wrapped around every supply. This connection with patients – whether advising on a medication query, picking up on a side- effect or supporting a patient to make a healthier lifestyle choice – is what cements the value of the sector today and it is what will surely underpin its success in the future.

Maximising connections

If these connections are the foundations for the sector’s continuing success, how do we maximise them and make the most of pharmacists’ clinical skills? This is, after all, what our representative organisations have been advocating for decades.

The obvious answer is through greater funding from the sector’s paymasters (if and when this comes), but the indications are that even this isn’t going to solve things alone. There also needs to be a change in the way pharmacy operates – something we are now starting to see happen. And fast.

If we look at the way community pharmacy is practised today, you could argue that very little has changed in the past 100 years. Sure, we have electronic scripts and sophisticated PMR systems, and we even have dispensing robots to manage stock and speed up the dispensing process, but the actual process itself, from receiving the prescription, assembly and supply, has fundamentally stayed the same. Until now.

We are already seeing the impact of central dispensing hubs set up by the large multiples, where scripts can be sent electronically to automated hubs, dispensed and shipped back to the branch for collection. Companies such as HubRx are developing a centralised dispensing service for independents, and wholesalers such as Phoenix have introduced, through their Golden Tote service, an innovative way to speed up the dispensing process by using barcode technology to individually deliver the stock for each script.

Changing patient experience

Add in the proliferation of apps to order repeat prescriptions, on-demand digital GP services and the rapid growth of our own Pharmaself24 collection machines (we are fast approaching our 100th installation) and it is clear that the patient experience is changing.

Now, patients can order their repeat prescriptions using their mobile phones and then forget about it and carry on with their normal routines. When their medicines are ready, they get a notification and the dispensed prescriptions will either be delivered to their home or they can collect them from the pharmacy’s Pharmaself24 collection point 24/7.

This level of convenience is reflective of what today’s society expects when using any service – and these ‘digital expectations’ have only intensified since the pandemic hit last year.

Further evidence of this shift towards convenience can be found in a survey reported by Forbes in the US, which revealed that three- fifths of Amazon Prime members who regularly require a prescription said they would consider having their medicines delivered by Amazon if the service was available. A quick Google search shows there are about 15 million people in Britain who are Amazon Prime subscribers.

If the community pharmacy network that we all cherish is to continue to flourish, the adoption of automation and technology to deliver ever more convenience to patients cannot come fast enough.

Ferris Bueller really was right. Life does move pretty fast, and you should take time to stop and look around once in a while. When you do, whatever you see looming on the horizon can be a powerful catalyst for change.

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