Left to right: Alliance Boots executive chairman Stefano Pessina, Walgreen's president of pharmacy, health and wellness Kermit Crawford, and head of Novartis Michael Wheeldon
As independent pharmacies prepare for 2014 following a challenging year for the sector, leading figures from Alliance Boots, Walgreens and Novartis shared their thoughts on the three elements they believe will help shape pharmacy's future at last month's conference of Alliance Healthcare's independent support group Alphega in Monaco (November 28-29).
Pharmacists need to start more conversations with patients about their health to fully understand them, according to Alliance Boots' executive chairman Stefano Pessina. He argued that pharmacists should be embracing a range of services, from vaccinations to care home visits, and not compromise on what they could provide to customers in the future.
"The most important thing in our community is to have direct conversations with patients. Without understanding the patients you cannot be a player in this industry," stressed Mr Pessina.
Speakers at the conference took every opportunity to advise pharmacists to come out of the dispensary and into the front of the shop. Head of Novartis Michael Wheeldon said dealing with customers at the front of the counter and making yourself approachable is the best way to work within the growing digital era.
"This is one way that will make sure that you are retaining your loyal customer base of patients. You are the pivotal point of healthcare delivery, and I have no doubt that the role of pharmacy and your role in community will be here [in the future]," he told European members of Alliance Boots' virtual network.
Walgreen's president of pharmacy, health and wellness Kermit Crawford explained that the role of pharmacy is changing from putting pills in a bottle to focusing on patient outcomes.
"For years, the product in our pharmacy has been about the pill, but the pill is no longer the product. The product is the patient outcome," he argued. "How we can help patients live and better manage their disease? This all starts with the relationship that we're building between our pharmacists and our patients."
Four factors for success
The factors that will determine pharmacy's success in the future, according to Walgreen's president of pharmacy, health and wellness Kermit Crawford
3 Performing in an environment where performance is paid for
4 Evidence-based outcomes
Pharmacists will have to adapt to the modern world or risk being left behind, said Mr Pessina, whose view was shared by many of the conference speakers.
"Don't miss out on the opportunities of the digital revolution. The digital revolution will change our world," the Alliance Boot executive chairman warned.
In August, Alphega members were given Samsung tablet computer systems pre-loaded with pharmacy-based apps for pharmacists and pharmacy staff. An interactive on how to increase mystery shopper scores and improve product knowledge was also included.
Mr Pessina said he was convinced that, in 10 years' time, patients will be able to receive a diagnosis from a doctor via their smart phone or tablet, after sending them their blood pressure readings, temperature, blood sample readings and photographs. He described how companies have been developing technology for smart phones to take blood samples and send them across to doctors.
"There are tens of hundreds of people working on that. Some will fail, some will be successful, and I can tell you in 10 years' time the revolution will be incredible," Mr Pessina said.
Mr Crawford named innovation as the tool behind the growth of Walgreens. As part of this innovation, Walgreens has introduced customer drive-throughs and linked all of its stores via satellite. In 2002, Walgreens became the first company in America to print prescription labels in 14 different languages, he said.
The company is working within a seamless "omni channel" experience, delivering care when, where and how the customer wants it, explained Mr Crawford.
"We have invested significantly in both our online and mobile capabilities. We have more than 14 million visits to our digital categories every single week and more than half of our prescription refills are done through a smart phone," he said. "We send out millions of repeat reminders – text messages or emails – every day as we support adherence programmes."
Despite the "massive changes" in pharmacy, Mr Pessina insisted that independent pharmacies can retain their place on the market alongside multiples. He believed that, in times of significant economic growth in China and India, international chains of pharmacies will not emerge any time soon but instead remain a "local phenomenon".
However, independents should be wary of supermarket pharmacies, which pose the biggest threat to their business because they have "different logics", he argued. "They don't make money on the pharmacy, they make money on the rest," he said. "They use the pharmacy to increase the footfall in their supermarkets."
Independent pharmacies need to develop new services and embrace digital technology to beat off the competition, he added.
Mr Crawford agreed and described how Walgreens has been leaving its competitors at the wayside by creating opportunities for pharmacists to talk to customers and developing partnerships with doctors and patients to increase patient satisfaction.
"We feel we are uniquely positioned because of our people, our products and our services. And we're focusing on an ageing and a chronic customer. Our goal is to deliver access to innovative, high quality, affordable health and wellbeing services in all of the communities that we serve," Mr Crawford said.
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