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Efficiency – what can we learn from the supermarkets?

Supermarkets streamline, and pharmacies should too, says Mawdsleys' Dr Omar Shakoor

Having worked in supermarket pharmacy for several years, and seeing first-hand the daily stresses of running a busy pharmacy, I used to wonder how independent pharmacy proprietors managed to cope with having so many things to do and just one pair of hands.

One thing that is more apparent than ever to me now is that time in a pharmacy is beyond limited – you must find the time to source products, deliver services, grow your over-the-counter (OTC) sales, market your business, and keep on top of your costs and profit.

And you must also find the best sources of direct-to-pharmacy (DTP) products, ensure you comply with generic schemes to maximise discounts, and get competitive prices across your full product list. Then don't forget providing services, marketing, front-of-shop work, and staff training  and you are faced with a near-impossible task.

Yet constantly keeping a close eye on purchases is hard work and takes up a phenomenal amount of resource.

Accepting automation 

My experience in supermarket pharmacy taught me that using systems to streamline ordering removes the need for pharmacy managers to source products on an individual basis. It also taught me that having automated ways to examine profit is a more productive way to work.

This is where IT comes in. It can provide your own business the same efficiency benefits that supermarkets and other multiples enjoy. And pharmacy managers are freed up to deliver enhanced and advanced services, provide excellent customer service, up-sell OTC products and train staff.

Setting up order management systems can ensure stock buying is done exactly how you want it; that orders for DTP products can be redirected if an alternative is not available; that compliance is monitored; and that reports on expenditure and profitability become available at the push of a button.

Sound too good to be true?

All of this may sound like a fantasy for a small pharmacy, but it is within your reach. Keep in mind that using IT to streamline ordering will soon become essential to securing the future of independent pharmacy, as it places your business on the same playing field as multiples.

I am not saying streamlining ordering is a golden ticket, but it will free up hours of time each week for more productive work. Ask yourself: would you rather spend 15 minutes sourcing a product to save a few pence, or 15 minutes in a consultation room with a patient doing a medicines use review? I know which I’d rather – and I know which the supermarkets prefer too.

Dr Omar Shakoor is the pharmaceutical services director at wholesaler Mawdsleys

What do you think community pharmacy can learn from the supermarkets?

Hanbal Chaudry, Community pharmacist

Yes. That's the wholesalers dream deal. Just transmit the orders and don't ask about the prices. Accept the discounts that are given. Wonder if they think us contractors are stupid. Newsflash. There are very few contractors (none that I know of) that are not dependent on NHS income. Services no matter how much time you spends on them do not make for a viable business. 

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