This site is intended for Healthcare Professionals only

Opinion bookmark icon off

What kind of image are you portraying?

Further integration of community pharmacy into the NHS will strengthen the sector’s clinical future. But for that to happen pharmacies need to ensure they are portraying the right professional image, says Liam Stapleton

Recently I visited my GP and it wasn’t a good experience. As I sat down in the waiting area, I noticed piles of tote boxes either empty or waiting to be collected. 

When I was called in for my consultation, things weren’t much better. There were several cardboard boxes piled up in the corner and the whole room gave the impression of being untidy and not entirely clean. 

It didn’t feel like a very professional environment and it wasn’t what I would describe as a clinical environment either. The premises didn’t inspire me with confidence in either the service I was about to receive or the healthcare professional working in it.

I need to come clean now as I’m not being completely honest here... the description is true but it wasn’t a doctor’s surgery – it was a community pharmacy. 

What image do we present?

As a sector, community pharmacy needs to examine the image it presents both to consumers (the people who visit a pharmacy) and to customers (the people who pay for its services). 

There are many good pharmacies but too many simply don’t look like a suitable environment from which to provide clinical services and detract from those pharmacies that are trying to step into the future. They are like a crystal of potassium permanganate dropped into a bucket of water, tainting the colour of the whole and undermining confidence in its quality.

Try a little experiment. Step outside your pharmacy and look back at it from the other side of the road. What does it tell you to expect? Stand in the doorway. Is it clear that there is a clinical environment in the pharmacy and where it is?

The retail element of a pharmacy business has been part of the sector’s identity for a long time, as has the range of beauty, toiletry and personal care products that many pharmacies sell. The development of a professional, clinical environment does not need to be mutually exclusive with a commercial retail environment. 

One identity can sit comfortably alongside the other but each should not be overwhelmed by the other either. This can be done effectively by creating easily identifiable zones in the pharmacy so that people know where they are and what to expect in that area. Using clear signage to help people identify different areas and having clear lines of sight to different zones from the entrance will also help. Also consider what messages are put in the windows as this is the main form of advertising for many pharmacies. 

“Too many pharmacies don’t look like a suitable environment in which to provide clinical services”

Relationships are key

So what is at risk if pharmacy doesn’t get its image right? Customers seem to accept a transactional approach to receiving services in this quasi-clinical environment right now, but will they accept the clinical future that is being mapped out for community pharmacy? 

If pharmacists continue with this piecework approach to the services they provide for patients, will they be taken seriously as healthcare professionals when they try to provide support for more advanced care – long-term conditions, for example? 

The future of community pharmacy will be secured through services that build ongoing relationships with patients and other local healthcare professionals. The image portrayed is vitally important for this to succeed and for community pharmacy to be taken seriously as part of the local healthcare economy. 

It will be easier for the NHS to turn pharmacy services on and off if the sector is not embedded in the community and local health ecosystem.

Integration means security

Further integration of community pharmacy into the NHS – in the same way as GP practices, as contractors, are integrated into the NHS and are seen as the NHS by the public – will strengthen pharmacy’s clinical future. 

It will also add security and hopefully attract some of the benefits GP practices get that aren’t available to pharmacy practices. For this to happen, the NHS will surely demand higher standards for premises. Pharmacy can’t wait to be forced into it though; it needs to project this image voluntarily.

We need to be clear about the identity we want for the future: a more clinical future, staying as we are or being something else entirely. If pharmacy’s image remains incongruent with its developing clinical identity, it will never succeed. 

*Liam Stapleton is director of Metaphor Development Limited and an associate clinical lecturer at the University of Lincoln.

Copy Link copy link button


Hear the opinions and comment from some of the top names in pharmacy. Make sure you get in touch and share your opinions with us too.