Mike Smith puts the world to rights…

I was thinking the other day about the customer satisfaction surveys that we frequently receive from many of our online suppliers. They do these for a reason, obviously – to help improve their service – but it got me thinking about my own views on service in community pharmacy.

Your pharmacy may be first class, but it’s always beneficial just to take some time to step back and look at your own operation. Here are my thoughts:

  • Remember that you are the only healthcare professional in a community location, available six or seven days per week, without an appointment. This is your point of difference from GP practices and all other providers of medical services.
  • Patients want more time from their pharmacist, so it follows that the pharmacist’s time must be freed up to do this. So, take some action to:
  • Reduce paperwork
  • Delegate to trained staff
  • Look at your work streams – manage repeat prescription volumes at downtimes to free up time for the face-to-face work
  • Use accuracy checking technicians
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Patients want attention from well-trained and knowledgeable staff, so invest in your staff:  
  • They are a point of difference with your competitors
  • They are the reason that customers return.
  • Patients wish to visit professional, well-lit premises. Consider these points:
  • Do your opening hours match local needs?
  • When was your last refit?
  • Do all the lights work?
  • Are your windows clean?
  • Is your pharmacy cluttered?
  • Step outside your pharmacy and look in – what do you see and what image are you portraying to your customers?
  • Stock availability is key. Remember:  
  • Repeat prescription patients should not have a problem with out-of-stock items
  • The key is balancing stock levels: by not being too lean, but also by avoiding owing for the most widely prescribed lines.
  • Waiting times should be reduced to a minimum, so:
  • Avoid unnecessary delays – the days of ‘please call back in 30 minutes’ are long gone. Encourage patients to wait and browse your excellent pharmacy, and they may actually buy something
  • Encourage staff to engage with waiting customers and put customers first – everything else can wait
  • Plan staffing to match peak demand times.
  • The range of stock held should be tailored to meet your customers’ needs:
  • All neighbourhoods are different
  • Look for niche markets – such as alternative medicines, sports clinics or reading glasses
  • Give customers a reason to come to you, rather than the local supermarket.

You may feel that I am teaching grandma to suck eggs, but it’s not so. I know you know a lot of this stuff. My motive is just to ask you to step back and look at your operation.

We are all very busy people and sometimes it is difficult to see the wood for the trees. There is help out there, too – the excellent Alphega Pharmacy concept is one solution and I encourage you to check it out.

Moving on, I have recently raised my concern about the lack of commissioning for services, but I am dismayed to learn that not all MUR and NMS money is taken up by pharmacists. This really undermines my position when I challenge commissioning bodies. I guess we have to ask ourselves the question: how many pharmacists can actually deliver these services?

Not all, I fear. At the recent European Pharmacists Forum (EPF) in London I learnt about an excellent initiative in Switzerland that allows suitably trained pharmacists to diagnose, prescribe and treat patients. My Swiss colleague advised me that less than 50 per cent of pharmacists will undertake this role. I suspect that the number able to supply more specialist services in the UK will be of the same order…

So, good luck with your review.

Mike Smith is chairman of Alliance Healthcare, mike.h.smith@alliance-healthcare.co.uk



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