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There’s an app for that: Can technology bring pharmacists closer to patients?

Charac CEO Santosh Sahu discusses how embracing technology can help community pharmacies thrive in an increasingly digital world

Community pharmacy teams have arguably never been so busy. With the latest NHS figures showing that over a billion items were dispensed in the community in England in 2023/34, pharmacists and their teams are having to manage more prescriptions than ever before. Add to that a shrinking funding envelope and a recruitment crisis and it’s little wonder that more than half of contractor respondents to the C+D Salary Survey 2022 reported “very high” levels of stress.

Read more: How can artificial intelligence help community pharmacists?

But a growing number of mobile apps are positioning themselves as a tool to help pharmacists juggle time constraints, increased demand and other customer needs. Charac, an app that allows pharmacies to digitally manage their prescriptions and consultations, positions itself as just such a solution.

Its founder and CEO, Santosh Sahu, explains why the platform was created and what’s next for his ambitious digital business.

 

Necessity is the mother of all invention

 

As a Type 2 diabetic, Mr Sahu became frustrated that he had to ring his pharmacy every month for a status update on his prescriptions, he tells C+D. “Whereas if I buy a dress on Amazon or I order food on Just Eat or Domino's Pizza or anything, it clearly tells me that I ordered and what's happening with my order, whether it is ready to collect or [the] driver picked up and [is] bringing it to my house,” he explains.

“As an individual, I use various apps that give control,” he points out. There are apps to track anything from fast food deliveries to taxis, and others that allow users to watch television on other devices, meaning that he has “much more control” over what, when and how he can get his needs met.

Read more: Just 58% of patients go to their pharmacy for a minor illness, study finds

“But when it comes to the most important part – my health – I don't have control,” says Mr Sahu. The lack of technology in this area “frustrated me to do something about it”, and Charac was born in March 2020.

 

How does it work?

 

Mr Sahu describes Charac as a one-stop-shop for patients’ needs, with a “suite of resources”. Through the app, patients can order their medication and book NHS or private services, cutting queue times and time spent over the phone. And a partnership with the Royal Mail means that prescriptions can be picked up or delivered to the patient via post, in turn freeing up pharmacists’ time.

But Mr Sahu is also conscious of the drive towards more clinical services in community pharmacy. According to a survey of 200 UK adults conducted by Charac in March, awareness of the services pharmacies offered was as low as 13% in some cases. However, some 58% of respondents had gone to their local brick-and-mortar pharmacy for minor illnesses services, while just under half (47%) went to their local pharmacy for repeat prescriptions and 28% for flu vaccinations.

Read more: EPS now 'default' as almost 1bn items dispensed electronically in 2021/22

With funding for prescriptions “going down”, Mr Sahu notes that pharmacy teams are increasingly looking for ways to drive revenue. Charac gives pharmacists a fully integrated patient relationship management system, and also provides a platform for pharmacies to advertise the services they offer, which can either be conducted face-to-face in the pharmacy or remotely via a video call in the app. “With the consultation rooms available in every pharmacy [and] with the technology [Charac] has, it would be fantastic to increase the awareness of services,” he says.

 

Looking to the future

 

While Mr Sahu believes the app is “helping those community pharmacies using [its] technology to improve their efficiencies, bring [in] new revenues [and] new patients to them”, there are ambitious plans to grow the business.

The company is certainly looking to the future. It will be launching a “module “in August this year that will improve “medical adherence” for patients,  helping them to stick to a routine when taking their medication.

Since Charac's launch, 400 pharmacies have signed up to the app and 15,000 new patients have used it. However, the company is aiming to have 2,000 pharmacies actively using its service within the next three years.

Read more: Pharmacy app secures million-pound Royal Mail investment

The company is also driving partnerships with other organisations, including one with the National Pharmacy Association (NPA). And a deal with the Royal Mail means that patients can track the progress of their deliveries “every step of the way”.

The company may have hit the ground running, but it seems it is only just getting started with its mission to help the community pharmacy sector take the inside track.

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