Real-time learning from Warman-Freed Pharmacy, London

Pharmacies have been providing services such as blood pressure checks and health consultations for some time. Despite experimenting with services with varying results, the Warman-Freed team hadn’t yet been able to create a template for instant success, and engagement from staff and customers remained low. So, the Warman-Freed team completed a project to better understand what might be holding them back.

As financial constraints placed on community pharmacies continue to bite, services are increasingly being flagged as an opportunity to plug funding gaps. So why are they taking time to develop and embed?

The Warman-Freed team ran a project to try and find out. This involved two stages. First, the team carried out an extensive review of the existing academic research on the subject, looking at what industry bodies, academics and well-known figures in the industry were saying. Second, they conducted a survey of 100 pharmacy staff members to stress-test these findings, identify any additional barriers and understand the why.

“The latest academic thinking comes to two main conclusions,” says Joanna Mills, who heads up the learning agenda at The Learning Pharmacy. “It suggested that pharmacists are not confident about having broader conversations to promote health, and encouraging behavioural change is a tricky subject. The dispensary has traditionally been the pharmacist’s comfort zone, and the training that prepares them for the profession does little to promote the softer skills required to converse and drive change in a patient.”

What became apparent is that there is also a bigger issue at play from the other side of the counter. Customers have been slow to seek health advice in pharmacies, and one 2015 study found, for example, that only six per cent of those questioned would speak to a pharmacist or pharmacy staff if they were looking to get their blood pressure checked.

However, Warman-Freed’s research tells another story. “Half of the healthcare professionals who took part in our study stated that they were ‘very comfortable’ interacting with customers, while only three per cent stated that they were ‘very uncomfortable’,” says Warman-Freed general manager Farah Ali. “In addition,
the survey revealed that pharmacists felt customers were indeed proactive with asking for advice. So if staff are happy to engage with customers, and customers are similarly willing to ask for help, the problem must lie elsewhere.”

Time pressures

It would appear that the issue is, in fact, one of time, and when asked to name the biggest block to performing their jobs as well as possible, nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of comments were related to time pressures. “Many pharmacists state that they don’t have enough time to engage with providing services,” says Ms Ali. “I’ve experienced this myself. When time is scarce I have to prioritise accordingly and added-value services, unfortunately, can take a back seat.”

It seems that while NHS commissioned services have a tangible benefit, the commercial benefits of services above and beyond the CCG are not immediately understood. “Any income from services is dependent on a customer walking through the door,” says Ms Ali.

“There is a need to have some faith to believe that the service delivered will have a longer-term impact on loyalty, such as repeat prescriptions, retail sales or recommendation. Yet a pharmacist can see a very tangible value and return on investment for their time, as well as a clear contribution to patient wellbeing, from a prescription.”

Worthwhile

Providing services is the perfect way to build a relationship with a customer and, as a profession, being a provider for services available through pharmacy, this increases our reputation and standing within the healthcare community.

This in turn will improve commercial performance, according to Ms Ali. “Having a conversation with a customer about their health provides the basis for a long-term relationship,” she says.

“This will then ultimately have financial benefits as that customer might, for example, move their prescriptions to the pharmacy, or simply become a more regular shopper. Pharmacists have a wealth of knowledge they can share, and providing services gives them the ideal opportunity to showcase that expertise.

By having the confidence to engage with customers and looking to find efficiencies in their busy workloads to free up the time, they can turn an untapped opportunity into a useful element in their commercial mix that also makes a real difference to the health of their community.”

 

Tips for overcoming barriers

  • Consider the longer-term benefit. Use a loyalty card or a voucher to monitor whether service delivery results in sales or nomination
  • Stay focused on the services you want to deliver. You need to make time, and refocus when services become second priority
  • The key to building a relationship is finding out more about someone. Encourage your staff to ask questions and get to know customers a little more with every interaction
  • For any additional services that you want to introduce, try to “processise” these as much as possible to save time. For example, keep all documents and apparatus in one place, or have forms pre-completed where possible.

 

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