Focus on technology, marketing and services
By Raj Nutan
It continues to be a very interesting and challenging time in community pharmacy. Those who attended this year’s Pharmacy Show will undoubtedly use these terms to describe its key themes.
It was a fascinating experience, with a real air of caution and concern, combined with an unmissable spirit of innovation, as suppliers, pharmacists and other stakeholders got together to debate how their businesses can and should adapt to the current marketplace.
Naturally, the news of the Community Pharmacy Contractual Framework (CPCF) still dominates conversations as this announcement will shape community pharmacy in England for the next five years. Understandably, there is a concern around the flat funding against rising costs, so everyone I spoke to over the two days was looking at how they could run their business more efficiently. This can bring new opportunities, as situations like this force us to review our businesses, analyse our costs and evolve our service offerings.
Don’t resist technology
For me, a clear front runner in the opportunity stakes is technology. We must embrace it and stop resisting the inevitable role it will play in our future. Technology must be seen as an enabler to support the workflow in a pharmacy. There was a definite buzz around the PMR supplier stands this year with plenty of innovation on show including Cegedim’s next generation Pharmacy Manager system and relatively new entrant Titan from Invatech.
There were a number of patient facing apps, some with links to private doctor services. Clearly, health-centred apps continue to be a growth area. NHS Digital was also in attendance, delivering a number of sessions. At Alphega UK, our members continue to see the importance of technology, with over 70 per cent benefitting from an in-store tablet for training and patient support.
It was very refreshing to see so many pharmacists approach me and my team for advice and support. More and more is expected from the pharmacy sector, all while trying to understand and get to grips with the latest contractual framework changes. Seeking guidance from a brand like Alphega Pharmacy can really be the difference in not only making it through these troubling times, but ensuring your pharmacy is sustainable and better placed to support your patients.
Listen to demand
Across Europe, I have seen an increase in the number of pharmacies looking at developing private services. When I was chairing the business theatre, we hosted a number of sessions from suppliers and owners who are offering private services to their customers – including private GP and vaccination services.
Many ask: “Will my customers pay for such services?” This is where getting the appropriate advice and support is key, and there are many organisations that can help. At a recent Alphega Ambassadors meeting we heard from pharmacies running successful private services in developing areas. The key to their success in making a difference to the end user - the patient? Planning and getting all the team behind the service. Private travel health services are growing, and over 20 per cent of Alphega members offer this service. With ever increasing pressures on GPs this can be a potential growth area for pharmacies.
We must embrace technology and stop resisting the inevitable role it will play in our future
Marketing also proved an ingredient for success. It has become increasingly important to focus on the look and feel of your pharmacy. Your business has to appear inviting to visit, as you are in direct competition with so many other healthcare providers.
At Alphega UK we have seen an increase in requests for visits from both our dedicated digital and retail consultants to support members in these areas, and these tactics don’t always involve big investment. I am only seeing more and more need to include credible, engaging and meaningful marketing in pharmacy, and urge you all to step up and develop your marketing activities.
Be part of the community
Primary care networks (PCNs) were also high on the agenda at the show. It is crucial pharmacies engage with their local pharmaceutical committees on this. The PSNC website has briefings, so please take a look. It’s going to be a mindset shift for many, but we must all start working more closely together, as showing a united front when flying the flag for community pharmacy in PCNs is a must. This sentiment was echoed again and again – get support and guidance if you need it, but get involved.