Well has launched a smartphone app for customers to order repeat prescriptions online, with the trial digital service currently running from one store. “It’s an app on iPhone that enables you to manage your prescriptions order, pay for it and get it delivered to your home,” explains head of digital at Well, Dan Sheldon. Customers in England are being invited to try out the service, which will be offered for no extra charge.
The launch, being trialled at digital.well.co.uk, is one part of the company’s active digital strategy, with developers and pharmacists working together to improve customer experience. “In a world where we’re used to Amazon and Netflix, pharmacy is seriously lagging behind,” Well tells customers on the app’s home page. Launched on iPhone, the service will be expanded to more platforms and more areas “over the coming months”, says Well.
“For us this is about learning and figuring out what customers want and how we should design this so that we take the hassle out for them; resolve some problems for pharmacists; and obviously we solve problems for GPs too,” Mr Sheldon told P3.
Well’s digital team have been working together to develop the new system and respond to customer feedback. “We have a whole multidisciplinary team here dedicated to this. We have pharmacists working alongside software engineers, designers and product managers to make something that will meet customers’ expectations in digital.”
Having an online service for repeat prescriptions is a key requirement for some customers, he says, and could ultimately free up pharmacist time in the future. “Many customers are on a regular repeat medication. Put that patient in control of their own health and then probably what they need from us is a bit more of a transactional service – which will free up time and capacity for us to give an ever more personal and caring service to customers who really need our help.”
The digital prescription service is all about giving customers a choice on how they want to interact with pharmacy, he says. “Some customers are going to want to come into stores; someone want to use an app. Some perhaps want to text us or phone us or want things delivered to the door, and others are happy to collect from a store. We are preparing for a future where customers have more choice.”
Face to face contact with the pharmacy team in store remains a priority, he stresses: “So, we think that bricks and mortar are the core of our business and will continue to be. Online pharmacy accounts for just a half of a per cent of the total market right now. If anyone thinks the bricks and mortar are going to go away any time soon, then I just don’t agree.”
A key challenge for community pharmacy must be to integrate online and in-store pharmacy services, he believes. “Our competitors have online pharmacy services, but there is little core integration between the online service and the off-line service right now.”
Patients and pharmacists can contact one another during the dispensing process as necessary through a live chat function built into the app. “You get a notification on your phone when you have a reply from the pharmacist. This also allows us to reach out directly to the customer. If there is an issue or problem, or we just want to follow up and see how your medication has gone, it makes it easier for the pharmacist to be able to do that than the traditional methods of picking up the phone.”
Safety and standards will not be compromised by going online, he insists. “Our digital pharmacy operates to exactly the same standards, and I would argue that its even more rigorous in terms of the processes we’ve put in place; how we train our pharmacists, compared to a typical pharmacy store.”
Well’s vision for the use of technology in community pharmacy can offer advantages to the pharmacy team, as well as to customers, Mr Sheldon explains. “I would argue that digital technology will allow pharmacists to be pharmacists even more than they are right now. We can use digital technology – and in some cases automation, as we are doing in our hub and spoke programme – to take non-value-added activity away from the plates of pharmacists; to allow them to spend more time with patients, whether that’s online or offline, and actually do their job. I think that’s a win; that’s our ambition.”
“Towards the end of this year we’ve got a pretty big ambition about our growth. There’s quite a big scaling operation that we will be doing over the next few months.”
Coming to the market when other online players are relatively established could be an advantage for Well, explains Mr Sheldon, as they are able to use the latest digital technology. “I think the important thing is to learn and change in a faster and far more responsive way than any of our competitors do. We might not be the biggest or the most full featured right now, but I am confident that we will continue to be the best.”
For us this is about learning and figuring out what customers want