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Analogue when we should be digital


Analogue when we should be digital


Community pharmacy needs to wake up and address some fundamental issues facing the sector. A viewer emailed this ‘part rant, part plea’ after a recent P3pharmacy webcast...

Data analytics and automation of every sort is heading our way at alarming speed. While in the short term healthcare remains a people business, Covid has forced the public to reassess this, and they have taken to Zoom with gusto. Face to face contact will not save pharmacy now. Do you really need to visit a pharmacy for emergency contraception?

Medicines use reviews were the easiest and best remunerated service we have ever provided, but community pharmacy consistently failed to deliver. External commissioners are fully aware of these sorts of failures and, if they can, will disqualify pharmacies that fail to deliver from providing a service in the future. 

The New Medicine Service is another fantastically easy service to provide, but can community pharmacists really say they are delivering this consistently, to even a satisfactory level?

Dispensing is not going to get any more profitable, so it has to be done at the lowest possible cost; we should be automating the dispensing process as much as possible. The inefficacy of GP prescription systems may save us in the short term, but it is only a matter of time before these are sorted out. 

We should be automating as much as we can, as fast as we can. How many community pharmacists have a proper digital telephone system? It’s too easy to speak directly to the pharmacist; should pharmacists really spend their time responding to questions about opening hours? 

Community pharmacy has to make a profit here and now, and it has to be at a level that allows investment in the future. Community pharmacists need to put a value on their time and cost services accordingly as we move into an era of costings opportunity for services. Given the finite time a pharmacist can allocate to providing a service, we need to know which is the most profitable: to the pharmacy, to the patient (and therefore the NHS).

Community pharmacy has to make a profit here and now, and it has to be at a level that allows investment in the future

Most community pharmacists have no idea. Look at the services many provide for nothing. Saving GP time makes for a great headline, but my local GPs couldn’t care less unless it affects them getting their points. Saving GP appointments doesn’t work either – GPs are not paid by the appointment. And it suits them politically and financially to play the ‘overworked’ card. 

Independent prescribers in community pharmacy are searching for a use for their qualifications, waiting for the NHS to listen to them. They may well have services their local population need, but if they charged for them, would patients be willing to pay? Do we know?

Community pharmacy is a data rich environment: patient medications records, EPOS, PharmOutcomes, even the FP34 and Community Pharmacy Patient Questionnaire (CPPQ). Data is king; it should not be given away for free. But what are we doing with it? Even dispensing is not valued because we’ve made it look simple; we have plenty of data that shows it isn’t, but do we ever use it?

Applying analytics to data is profit. Every pharmacy should have a range of key performance indicators pertinent to their business. Generated automatically on a weekly, monthly or quarterly basis, they should be acted upon, even if it that means stopping the delivery of commissioned services that are not valuable to the business. GPs do it; why doesn’t pharmacy? 

The individual community pharmacist knows their clientele better than the PSNC, the LPC or the chief pharmacist. Yes, we are acknowledged now thanks to the pandemic, but we are not really valued, and that’s not just because we cannot deliver any votes.

Amazon Pharmacy was quickly dismissed, but it is coming. Amazon Prime is estimated to have 15 million subscribers – luckily for us, skewed to the under 35s – but this means instant access to up to 15 million homes out of a UK total of around 28 million. As well as an intant customer base, Amazon has the data analytics, logistics, US experience and, most of all, money. 

If Amazon Pharmacy was only to achieve the same dispensing volume as Pharmacy2U (not an unreasonable assumption), that’s lost revenue for each community pharmacy of 77 prescription items a month, equating to around £630 turnover and over £110 gross profit. Where is community pharmacy going to make up the lost revenue? That’s only four MURs a month, but they’re going in April. 

Wanting to sell online? It is tougher than on the high street, even if you just use Ebay to clear excess stock. A website will expose you to a global audience, but it is essential that the goal is defined at the outset, and the community pharmacy will need a media communications plan to make the most of it: all of that takes time. 

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