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How pharmacists can boost their business in 2024

Introducing new services, embracing technology, and collaborating with the local community are just some of the ways pharmacists can increase their business and their profits. Frontline community pharmacists share the ways they are increasing profits this year.

A new year is the ideal opportunity for pharmacists to review their performance, and to introduce innovative ways of boosting their business.

 

“The start of the year is always a good time to for community pharmacy to reflect and to strategise,” says Ade Williams, lead pharmacist at Bedminster Pharmacy, Bristol.

 

Given the growing workload pressures, medicines shortages and funding constraints, as well as opportunities - such as the launch of Pharmacy First - he says now is “a good time to review your enterprise.

 

Read more: How to motivate your pharmacy team

 

“Ask yourself: ‘How can I do the best for my patients, make sure what I do is sustainable, and look after myself and my team this year,’” he says.

 

“Pharmacies are facing funding cuts from the NHS, and some are struggling to keep their profit levels steady,” says Reyhane Kiani, pharmacy owner of Allendale Pharmacy in Hexham, an independent prescriber (IP), and primary care network (PCN) lead for Northumberland Primary Care (NPC).

 

“These factors are forcing some pharmacies to think more strategically about their business and what they can do to improve their profit margin. It’s about knowing where your profits and losses are, so you can take control of your business,” she tells C+D.

 

 

Consider prescriptions

 

Ms Kiani is always considering how her team can maximise its electronic prescription service (EPS) through repeat prescriptions.

 

Read more: Is emotional intelligence a required skill for pharmacy?

 

“I ensure staff are trained to get patient consent for us to provide them with that service,” she says. “This helps to ensure customers will visit the pharmacy again, which then also increases the opportunities for extra sales - whether it’s over-the-counter products or front of shop.”

 

“I keep an eye on which products are top sellers, and ensure I keep a reasonable amount of that product in stock,” says Ms Kiani. The pharmacy team has a record of what products are selling well – or not so well. “This means we avoid having high volumes of excess stock and expired items, and are providing customers with what they want and need,” she says.

 

 

 

Embrace technology

 

Making the most of existing technology can help to boost business. David Broome, director at Stancliffe Pharmacy, Leeds, and Community Pharmacy England regional representative for Yorkshire and Humber, says Patient Medication Record systems (PMR) “can make life easier, and the dispensing process slicker”, to allow pharmacists time for other work.

 

Mr Broome enjoys benefits of the Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) and the advantages of being paperless, such as using less printer toner. His pharmacy has also embraced Real Time Exemption Checking (RTEC) “which saves a massive amount of time at the end of the month, in not having to check prescriptions with signatures on the back”, he says.

 

With technology “there isn’t one big golden bullet that will give you efficiencies,” he tells C+D. “It’s about using as many different things as possible, so you can gain the overall benefit for the pharmacy.”

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Pharmacists can also invest in the latest technological developments. Over the past ten years, Amish Patel, director and superintendent pharmacist at Hodgson Pharmacy, Longfield, Kent, has invested in excess of £150,000 in new technology, including a dispensing robot, “which has made dispensing processes more efficient, and freed up time to spend more time with patients”, he says.

The pharmacy also has its own app, which notifies patients when their scrips are ready. Patients are quick to collect their medicines after receiving a notification, there are fewer uncollected scrips, and more time for patient care, says Mr Patel.

 

 

Collaborate with the local community

 

Collaborating with the local community, patients, and healthcare professionals “creates a platform to address issues and share information”, says Mr Williams “It also enables you to be seen as part of the community, which can only be great for good will,” he tells C+D. Signposting patients to sources of support within the local community also builds loyalty and boosts business, he says.

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“Continual engagement is key,” he advises. “You need to be available outside of the walls of the pharmacy.” A PCN community pharmacy lead, he regularly meets up with other PCN contacts, and local councillors to discuss what more community pharmacy can do, and to advocate for the value it can bring more widely than its own four walls.

Collaboration is important to raise awareness about what the pharmacy has to offer. “When I introduce a new service, I email all the local GPs to let them know,” says Lila Thakerar, superintendent pharmacist at Shaftesbury Pharmacy, Harrow.

She says collaborating with general practice can lead to patient referrals to the pharmacy to provide, for example, hypertension case finding or contraception services.

 

 

Expand services beyond medications, including through screening and health checks

 

“Gone are the days of pharmacy relying on dispensing, and OTC profits,” says Ms Thakerar. She says the direction of the profession is moving towards providing pharmacy services, including those commissioned by the NHS.

 

Read more: How to optimise the COVID-19 vaccination service in your pharmacy

 

In 2023, the NHS commissioned pharmacy to provide contraception and hypertension case-finding services, and 2024 has seen the launch of the new NHS Pharmacy First advanced service. Ms Thakerar’s pharmacy offers these services, and she advises other pharmacists to “grab these opportunities” too.

 

“The more patients you have registered to the pharmacy and the more services you provide, the more reimbursements you get,” she says. Pharmacists and their teams should be “adequately trained and ready to speak to patients about these services”, she advises.

 

The many services available at Bedminster Pharmacy include the hypertension case-finding service, which is proving popular - Mr Williams sees between 20-30 patients a week. Pharmacists receive a fee of £15 for each patient receiving a blood pressure check “Not only does the service help financially, it’s also about prevention, and helping to address this hidden condition,” he says.

Read more: The Lloydspharmacy we started out in went up for sale – so we rushed to buy it

The vaccination service is another way community pharmacy can improve their customer satisfaction and increase their profits, says Ms Kiani. As well as offering appointments, pharmacists could consider promoting it as a walk-in service, to make it more convenient for patients.

At Hodgson Pharmacy, private services on offer include a travel clinic, ear wax removal clinic, blood testing, aesthetics – such as Botox, fillers, and skin peels – and cryotherapy, including wart removals.

Mr Patel monitors the income from each service he offers on a monthly basis, and is open to establishing new services in response to patients’ needs.

“My private services make up approximately 10% of my turnover,” he tells C+D.. Private services are not only valuable financially, they also “keep your business growing, meet the needs of your patients and, personally, add to the enjoyment of my day”, he says.

When choosing what services to provide, “it is important that they are tailored to the needs of your community,” advises Mr Broome.

 

 

Focus on patient-centred care

 

A focus on individualised patient care can help build loyalty and boost repeat business. “Longstanding patients come to us”, says Mr Williams. “We take a patient-centred approach. Every interaction you have with a patient is an opportunity to leave them with a positive opinion of the pharmacist and the team.”

He says that pharmacists need to “seize that opportunity”, and think about what they can do to best support individual patients. “Those interactions are why patients keep choosing you. They know you care, and are aware of what you can do,” he says.

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Providing personal face-to-face care in the consulting room not only helps to build longstanding relationships – it can also be lifesaving. A provider of the hypertension case-finding service, Ms Thakerar has referred patients with high blood pressure, needing immediate attention and medication, to hospital.

“We have saved lives,” she says. “And the gratitude from patients is immeasurable.”  And the number of patients visiting her pharmacy continues to rise every month. “It’s about patient loyalty,” she says.

 

 

Promoting the pharmacy

 

Through better promotion, pharmacists can increase awareness about the care they provide and the services they deliver. This could include revamping the pharmacy website, or promoting services and offering healthcare tips through social media platforms.

“To establish a digital presence that connects with your target audience you may need expert input,” says Mr Williams. His investment in expert support to promote his pharmacy includes having a professionally designed website, and the pharmacist’s social media content reviewed for relevancy, and tone. This support has boosted the pharmacy website’s activity by 25%, and people are engaging with the site “which is very encouraging”, he says.

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Ms Kiani suggests introducing a customer loyalty card to encourage them to return to the pharmacy. She advises to “keep it simple’ – at her pharmacy, customers’ loyalty cards are stamped every time they make a purchase, and after 22 stamps they receive a £3 discount.

Inside Hodgson Pharmacy there are TV screens with rolling adverts to promote the pharmacy’s services. Mr Patel also asks patients how they heard of the services he offers, so he can monitor what kinds of promotional activity are proving effective.

 

 

Invest in your team

 

“Making sure your team reaches their full potential helps, massively boosting your business”, says Ms Kiani. “Your team are the main people dealing with your patients. And your patients like to be looked after by friendly people with experience and knowledge – this will increase the likelihood of them coming back for another visit. You must ensure your team has the correct training, they know which products are the best sellers, and that they can build good relationships with customers,” she says.

“Times are tough and it’s easy for pharmacy to become deflated with all the pressures,” says Mr Williams. “But don’t underestimate how much resilience and skill you have. And seize the opportunities that are out there.” 

 

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