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The patient should be truly at the heart of everything the pharmacy does. Does your pharmacy meet that aspiration?

Every business must keep a close eye on its customers. Very few will have a captive market where their customers don’t have any choice but to use them. The history of commerce and industry is littered with businesses that have struggled or failed because their primary focus fell on their produce or their service, rather than their customer.

The failure to learn these lessons is still evident today, and we can all think of companies that have made the news in recent times because they have lost sight of their customer. Community pharmacy is no different from any other business.

When we lose sight of the patient, the service we provide and the value we add start to diminish. The added complication with community pharmacy is that the customer is not necessarily the consumer.

Consumers and customers

Customers and consumers are not necessarily the same in the pharmacy. A customer pays for a service or product; a consumer uses the product or service. Often they will be the same person.

For example, we are customers of the energy company we use at home and we are also the consumer. Sometimes the consumer and the customer will be different people. If I were to purchase a care package for one of my elderly parents, for example, they would be the consumer and I would be the customer.

Customers have more power than consumers. If I am paying the bill, I will decide what the service includes and the standards of service that I expect from the provider. For NHS services, particularly the dispensing service, the NHS is the customer (it pays for the service) and the patient is the consumer (they use the service).

We cannot arbitrarily change the level of service we provide for patients without the agreement of the NHS. We could choose to provide a higher level of service, but that would be our choice, rather than the NHS’s, and at our own expense. What complicates this situation further is that our consumers (patients) can choose where they receive the service we provide.

If we do not meet their needs, or they feel another pharmacy will meet their needs better, they can choose to take their prescriptions elsewhere. This seems like common sense, but it is too easy to forget the patient and focus on the process instead – how quickly can we get the prescription out, how can we manage the stock effectively, how we can fill in paperwork efficiently?

We can find this creeping into the way we work because of the pressures we are under. Slowly, patients may feel that we are less engaged with meeting their needs and they can feel that they have become part of the process rather than the reason for the process.

The dangers of getting it wrong

At a very simple level, when we find we have built our pharmacy service around the process rather than the patient, we may see people vote with their feet and find another pharmacy that provides them with the service that they need or want or is more convenient. At a higher level, if we do not have our patients at the heart of the pharmacy, we undermine the future of pharmacy as we currently recognise it on the high street or in communities.

If we have allowed our focus to be on our process and have allowed our patients become secondary, we need to ask ourselves what value we add to the dispensing process. There is a danger that we become mini dispensing factories that simply churn out dispensed prescriptions at the most efficient rate. Patients become a bottleneck in the process and our service becomes very superficial.

In this situation, how do we add value to the process over and above the supply of medicines through mail order? The NHS is driven by outcomes, and a current key theme is patient-centred care.

Community pharmacy must demonstrate that our involvement in the supply of medicines has a positive effect on patient outcomes – otherwise the NHS will remove more value from the dispensing service. The best way to do this is to ensure that the service is built around the patient.




When was the last time you looked at the service you provide through the eyes of a customer? Take some time to detach yourself from the process in the pharmacy. Stand back and watch what is happening. 

  • What are people doing (team members and patients)? 
  • How satisfied do your patients look? 
  • How would you feel if you were a patient in your pharmacy?