What do you think have been the key factors that have changed the landscape for community pharmacies?
Pharmacists are currently operating under a huge amount of pressure – NHS cuts are squeezing smaller community pharmacists and revenues from prescriptions are also decreasing. This results in a great deal of economic strain and a need to adapt to a more commercial mindset. Pharmacists are the backbone of community healthcare, but they also need to put on their business hats and develop their commercial skills.
The fact that consumers appear to have fallen out of love with the high street and the amount of spending online is also a key factor, with online pharmacies increasingly gaining a slice of the market.
In addition, the public has become much more informed when it comes to healthcare. There’s a wealth of information available at people’s fingertips and an increasing willingness to self-care – a positive for pharmacies as they are best placed to help consumers make choices on the right products for them.
As the high street comes under increasing pressure, how can pharmacies make sure they are offering a unique service to their customers?
Pharmacists’ clinical knowledge is exceptional – they can offer recommendations within a few seconds of a customer coming into their pharmacy. The high levels of personal service and community support they provide cannot be replicated in an online-only model.
The value of a face-to-face interaction with someone who is worried about their health cannot be underestimated – it gives reassurance and helps to build an ongoing relationship between pharmacist and customer, so that customer keeps returning.
While it’s true that high streets are under pressure, there is a good level of footfall in pharmacies. When people walk through the door, they often have a specific need in mind. Pharmacists are problem solvers – providing good solutions builds trust and creates a high level of customer satisfaction.
The two most important things pharmacists must do are to put themselves in the position of the person who has come in looking for something to help their health, whether it’s eczema, allergies or heartburn for example, and to have belief in their knowledge and ability to find the right solution for that specific customer.
What challenges and opportunities for community pharmacies do you see with the upcoming NHS digital transformation?
The upcoming NHS digital transformation presents a huge opportunity for community pharmacies, opening up new patient services and opportunities to become part of a more connected healthcare system, which will improve patient care across the NHS as well creating efficiencies.
However, recent research we conducted for our Business Fit for the Future programme indicated that the current work culture is weighed down by outdated processes. For example, one in five community pharmacies is still relying on a paper-based ordering system. The first serious challenge is removing this apparent sense of trepidation when it comes to adopting technology.
In terms of opportunities, embracing technology will allow pharmacies to communicate with their patients and customers in ways that are more relevant to today’s world, such as social media platforms. Having a social media profile for their pharmacy can help drive people through the doors, as well as giving the pharmacy the opportunity to highlight the services it offers.
What efficiencies can tech bring to community pharmacies?
Efficiency is one of the most transformational opportunities that tech can bring. As part of the launch of our new training module Let’s Talk Tech, we spoke to a community pharmacist who had been spending up to two hours a day doing stock management on a manual system before switching to an electronic ordering system. When there are increasing pressures on community pharmacy, spending hours and hours on administration doesn’t make financial sense. It also takes pharmacists away from what they do best: providing patient care. While setting up a new system may involve an initial time investment, it will pay itself back as soon as it’s up and running.
Profitability is one of the top factors in causing workplace stress for pharmacists – can embracing tech really address these concerns?
Technology certainly has a key role to play in boosting profitability: it can help reduce costs, improve cash flow and help to maximise sales.
Embracing electronic systems such as EPOS for example can give so much insight into customers and their needs – so you’re much more likely to anticipate when there will be a seasonal demand for certain categories (e.g. allergy season) and capitalise on this. Statistics like rate of sale will be clearly explained so there isn’t a reliance on walking the shop floor and checking what stock is remaining.
It will also help with ranging and merchandising decisions so you can optimise shelf layout and ensure you have the right mix of products for your customers – and your bottom line.