Innovation and digitisation lead way across Europe for Alphega

From a small development office in Paris almost 20 years ago, Alphega Pharmacy has come a long way. It recently hosted more than 1,200 pharmacists, from nine countries, at its ninth European Convention in Monaco, for a mix of practical workshops and speaker presentations from the likes of IQVIA, Microsoft and Verily (Google).

Virtual chains have been around for decades, but they seem to be coming of age if the 24 hours at Alphega Pharmacy’s European Convention 2019 – theme ‘Embracing Innovation, Empowering Pharmacy’ – is anything to go by. We’ll come to the presentations later, but first and foremost this was a showcase for some genuine innovation, much of which will translate technology currently in use in Walgreens in the US into the independent community pharmacy members of the group in the various European marketplaces. 

Four developments particularly caught the eye in the innovation exhibition. The Alphega App, which is already providing independents in Italy and France with the means to link to their customers, is due for a UK launch in 2019. A pharmacy performance dashboard, which is aimed principally at supplier partners, but which will enable pharmacies to benchmark themselves on a range of business metrics, including sales and professional services, is currently drawing data from 500 stores (soon to be 700). The MyClub Alphega loyalty card programme, which is set to leverage the expertise of the Walgreens Balance Reward scheme and the Boots Advantage card, has been launched in the first four countries, and a pretty nifty looking e-learning platform, which tracks the training and regulatory compliance across pharmacy staff in real time. 

It was left to Juan Guerra, senior vice-president, and managing director international wholesale at Walgreens Boots Alliance, to provide the main update and future plans for Alphega. Pointing to the now almost 20 year history of Alphega from its 2001 launch in France, to its most recent market entry, its ninth, in Romania in 2016, and a combined membership of more than 6,600 independent pharmacy members, Mr Guerra said: “We strongly believe Alphega is part of the Walgreens Boots Alliance family. We understand pharmacists. We own pharmacies across the globe, in the United States, Latin America, China, and Boots, in the UK, Ireland, Netherlands, South Korea. ”

He said the group continues to work hard to equip members with the right tools to face present and future challenges, which were coming faster, and in greater numbers and more complexity than ever before. “We believe we can export the best practices from our pharmacies for the benefit of Alphega members.”

Summarising the achievements since the eight Convention two years ago. He said the last year had been used to build the brand. “Because of our size we have strengthened our co-operation with manufacturers,” he said. The use of digital technology was growing across the group, and professional services had been expanded to reach more patients, across the nine countries, as part of differentiating the group from others. 

“Alphega strongly outperforms its peers,” Mr Guerra, pictured left, said. He cited a successful rollout across 650 pharmacies in France, Spain and Italy of an oral care category support programme backed by P&G, a multimarket Summer and Winter campaign with J&J, and expanded professional services, working with Pfizer and MSD in several countries to create patient awareness in areas such as vaccinations. “Partnerships deliver a differentiated offer and strengthen the role Alphega pharmacies play in their communities,” he said. “The strong commitment and support of Alphega pharmacies will result in better commercial conditions and a stronger services offer through our team of Alphega consultants.”

Speaking later in a press briefing, Mr Guerra said it was a challenge to put together at scale to deliver professional services. “We need to put together a certain number of pharmacies who accept that some of the initiatives we want to launch are valuable, and don’t dilute the effort. We don’t expect everybody to be aligned.”

He recognised delivery as important in terms of growing the group. “The only thing we will be more demanding on is compliance,” Mr Guerra said. “For me, it’s not about size, it’s about behaviour. Those who are prepared to adapt will survive.” For the future, the group will be focused on taking the current 6,600 to a higher level of compliance, and is prepared to lapse businesses who do not buy into the key concepts. 

People trust real over virtual: Ornella Barra

“No innovation, however powerful, will be able to replace the pharmacist,” Ornella Barra (below right), co-chief operating officer for Walgreens Boots Alliance, told the Convention. Ms Barra said that even in a world of increasing online transactions, the trust factor between pharmacist and customer is crucial. “People seek reassurance from someone they trust, someone who is qualified and who knows their family personally, someone real, not virtual.” She told Alphega members: “You are the protagonists. You are not alone; you are part of the largest independent pharmacy network in Europe.  You can count on a company that places pharmacy and innovation right at its core.”

Ms Barra said Alphega was a fundamental part of Walgreens Boots Alliance. She told Alphega members: “You are the protagonists. You are not alone; you are part of the largest independent pharmacy network in Europe.  You can count on a company that places pharmacy and innovation right at its core.” For the doubters, she contrasted Boots growth to 2,500 stores in 170 years, the century it took Walgreens to reach 10,000 stores in the US with the 6,600 Alphega member chain, which is 18 years old. “WBA is not on a mission to disrupt the market and impose a chain,” she said. “We want to build a global platform to the benefit of the whole supply chain, including independent pharmacies and consumers and patients. Partnership is a more important value for WBA.”

Ms Barra said the future would belong to those who could harness innovative solutions for customers, informed by and developed to suit local market requirements. “Nothing compares with the direct contact you have with local patients,” she said. “Your feedback will allow us to adapt our offer in the best way for each market. When we invest in Alphega, we are ultimately investing in you and your growth.”

Alphega offers antidote to current challenges, says Alliance's Julian Mount

“If you look at the financial reality of pharmacy today, you could go into a tailspin, spending all day on the phone trying to get a penny off generics, or you could embrace the front of shop agenda, embrace the services agenda and the Alphega concept, and try and move forward,” said Julian Mount managing director, Alliance Healthcare, speaking in an informal press briefing. “For those pharmacies who do adopt a more forward looking agenda, generally speaking the more they put in, the more they learn and develop, the more robust their business is to survive what the DH throws at them.”

He suggested that personalised medicines, including diagnostics was just around the corner. “I don’t see how Governments will continue to pay for healthcare in the traditional fashion. What about having a consulting room in pharmacy where you can have an infusion? What about looking after patients in a phase four clinical trial? That kind of thing is coming.”

Improving delivery is a goal, and proof is important. “People want to talk data now. We will have 300 EPoS till systems for members in two months’ time. Now I can track sell in, what the pharmacy has done, and sell out on the till. We will be able to tell was a campaign successful for a manufacturer, with Alphega pharmacies.”

In the UK, Alphega’s ten full-time business mentors visit top tier members monthly, complete a diagnostic covering merchandising, financial efficiency, services, and make recommendations for focus over the next month. This service is supported by feedback derived from mystery shopping.

Convention diary

  • More than 1200 pharmacists attended the Convention. The largest delegation, from Italy, numbered 223; the smallest was the Czech Republic’s 65. There were 163 attendees from the UK. Other countries represented: Spain (186), Germany (170), France (148), Romania (144), Turkey (90) and the Netherland (69).
  • Juan Guerra’s statement placing Alphega as a key element of WBA strategy, was strongly echoed by Alliance Healthcare managing director Julian Mount. “Internally and externally it’s now Walgreens, Boots and Alphega; there’s far more presence for Alphega as the third chain in the group. You’re no longer in a silo, reinventing the wheel,” Julian said. If Alphega is now, in thinking at least, equivalent to Boots and Alliance Healthcare as part of the WBA landscape in the UK, that would represent a significant step change in influence.
  • We weren’t allowed into the country-specific workshop sessions, but there was certainly a buzz about UK colleagues as they emerged.
  • Our American press colleagues were keenly interested in UK developments. Times might be tough back home, but professionally UK community pharmacy continues to boldly go where others wish to follow. 
  • The Conference kicked off country-specific celebrations of success: the Czech Republic’s social media campaign for their lung age campaign, the 260 Alphega pharmacies in Italy leading the way with 200,000 customers signed up for the MyClub Alphega loyalty card programme, and Germany’s vitamin B service demonstrating the benefit of personalised dosage recommendation plans in 70 pharmacies. Always great to celebrate collective endeavour. 
  • It’s rare outside a professional association programme to find words like pharmacogenomics sitting alongside governance and customer expectations. The world really is moving on, fast.
  • The introduction of Alphega in Northern Ireland is on the cards. “It’s looking promising,” Mr Guerra said. “There’s has to be a certain critical mass; we need to make sure we can cross the river.” That was confirmed by Alliance Healthcare md Julian Mount.  “I can’t give you a launch date, but we’re in the evaluation study now,” he said.
  • FMD authentication, in itself, is like putting a burglar alarm on your house; they [the counterfeiters] will try somewhere else,” IQVIA’s vice-president, strategic partners Per Troein, told the Convention. “But the biggest thing for me is that all pharmacists will be instantly connected, all the time. It’s a milestone.”

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