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How can community pharmacy seize the booming private healthcare opportunity?

With patients more willing to pay for medical care than ever before, how can community pharmacies tap into this opportunity? Reece Samani considers the options

More and more people in the UK are paying for private healthcare as a result of long waiting times and difficulties in securing GP appointments in the NHS.

The complex issues facing the NHS are well documented and I will not go into depth about them here.

Instead, I will focus on the fact that people are more willing to pay for medical care and what that might mean for pharmacies.

Read more: CCA: Pharmacy First could release 30.5m GP appointments per year

According to Office for National Statistics figures published in December 2022, one in eight people paid for private medical care last year as a result of NHS delays.

Out of these people, 7% paid for their treatment themselves and 5% paid for their treatment through private healthcare insurance. 

That figure could rise in 2023. A poll carried out by the Independent Healthcare Providers Network suggested one in five people expected to use private healthcare last year and almost half (48%) would consider using it if they were to need treatment.

These figures relate to all sorts of procedures, but the same applies to primary care.

Most of us have experienced how difficult it has become to secure an appointment at a local NHS practice. As a result, more people are turning to private GPs.

Essentially, those who are able are willing to pay for convenience.

Health insurer Aviva saw the number of people registering for private app-based GP services increase by approximately 70% in the 12 months from December 2021 to December 2022. Other insurers reported similar statistics.

I have witnessed the same trend first-hand.

I run a business called SignatureRx that provides an advanced electronic private prescription system for clinicians, and the number of scripts being written by private GPs, most of which are dispensed at community pharmacies in the UK, has increased markedly in recent months.

So, the behaviour of the British people in relation to health – including primary care – is clearly shifting.

Read more: Pharmacists are not 'cheap' substitutes for GPs – we are so much more

I believe this shift may provide opportunities for community pharmacies to generate revenue through more care provision.

Times are hard for community pharmacies across the UK. Funding remains a huge issue and operating costs are on the rise. New income streams are needed.

Of course, thousands of pharmacies across the country already offer treatments like vaccinations, travel clinics or smoking cessation.

But perhaps we could go even further as an industry.

Pharmacists can be trained to perform many procedures or treat ailments that people traditionally associate with a trip to the GP.

Pharmacists can give vaccines for meningitis, measles and shingles. We can also help with alcohol reduction, weight loss and sexual health, ear infections, strep A and urinary tract infections. Various skin conditions can be attended to in-store as well.

Read more: 'Capacity constraints': Just one pharmacy health campaign agreed for this year

Many of my pharmacist colleagues are already able to provide some or all of these services. All of us could be trained to provide them if we have not yet been.

When I mention the idea of providing more services to some colleagues and friends who work in community pharmacies, they sometimes point out that pharmacists’ time already comes at a premium.

I understand and appreciate that, but new technology can perhaps mitigate the time issue to some extent.

Innovative patient medication record providers can help community pharmacies streamline their paperwork and speed up clinical checks and dispensing, which we all know is very time-consuming.

If these processes are accelerated, the time saved could be used to provide services that give pharmacies a new source of income and cement their role not just as providers of medication but as holistic community health hubs.

 

Reece Samani is CEO of The Locum App and SignatureRx

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