The impending pharmacy funding cuts have caused major controversy within the sector. Understandably, for the majority of pharmacy contractors, there are serious concerns over how such reductions will affect their business - particularly for independent contractors, who may not be as well-placed to absorb costs elsewhere.
At the beginning of the year the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) launched its response, adopting a three-pronged approach to tackle the government’s proposals. As well as challenging the current direction of Department of Health (DH) and NHS policies, the NPA vowed to provide guidance to help independents adapt to potential changes.
In support of the NPA’s actions to secure the future of independent pharmacies, we recently created a ‘Cuts Survival Pack’ campaign, aimed at helping community pharmacies deal with the impact of the proposed £170 million cuts.
Focusing on operational efficiencies, Mawdsleys suggests that the most impactful approach pharmacy that contractors can take to safeguard their profitsis to start making better use of technology in their wider business practices.
By optimising the capabilities of PMR systems and order management software, and more efficient practices, the profession can protect their revenue and offset the impact of proposed cuts.
We have identified several key areas where you can improve your cash flow and profit:
1. Scrutinise your monthly income returns
The ability to ensure the accuracy of reimbursement for dispensed items and other expenses is a significant step towards their cash flow.
Where technology is concerned, the effective use of a pharmacy’s PMR system can play a vital role in helping to make a reasonable estimate of overall NHS income, and enables payments to be monitored in accordance with this. So scrutinising your monthly income return statement to look for discrepancies against submissions should be part of your routine.
Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) advise that pharmacists should opt for fully functional PMR systems. These enable easy prescription sorting, prescription charge exemption information recording, and endorse or send prescriptions for reimbursement with the correct information.
These key features will help to streamline the reimbursement process and ensure pharmacists are being paid correctly for the work they do.
2. Look for areas to generate additional income
It’s important to remember that not all services are subject to cuts. There is valuable revenue available for carrying out other important duties.
Providing medicine use reviews (MURs) where required, for patients who need them, as well as services such as flu vaccinations, are practical ways of generating additional income and improving patient loyalty.
You should also talk to your Local Pharmaceutical Committee (LPC) to understand what services are being commissioned in your area, such as smoking cessation or weight management services.
Regular contact with an LPC ensures that you are aware of all possible revenue streams as early as possible, while also demonstrating the value of your community pharmacy in the local area.
Its also recommended that you make good use of a PMR system to segment your customers and easily identify those who are suitable for advanced and locally enhanced services.
3. Maximising your retail opportunities
Retail sales can be a very lucrative part of the pharmacy business, so it’s essential to stock the most profitable and best-selling lines within each product category.
A robust electronic point of sale (EPoS) system with enhanced functionality can help to grow over-the-counter (OTC) sales and help you to offer loyalty schemes and targeted promotions.
Such software can also analyse existing sales data to ensure that pharmacies only stock items that are relevant to their demographic. This prevents money from being tied up in unwanted stock, not to mention reducing clutter on shelves, which delivers clarity for the customer.
4. Make your purchasing more profitable
Direct-to-Pharmacy (DTP) and reduced wholesale model (RWM) schemes have already had a significant impact on independent pharmacies.
Because of the funding cuts, it’s important that you make your buying processes as efficient as possible in order to assign more time to services and generating additional income.
Rule-based order management systems are useful here, as they help you to streamline activities and create further savings. Their key benefit is that they maximise profit by ensuring compliance to buying protocols such as generics schemes, and automatically substituting DTP/RWM lines with profitable parallel import alternatives.
Steps such as ensuring accurate reimbursement or maximising OTC sales may seem obvious. But by utilising technology to make sure the business basics are covered, you can create an excellent foundation on which to build a successful patient- and customer-focused business.
It is this kind of common sense approach that will help ensure the future survival of community pharmacy in this country, during what will undoubtedly be a difficult time for the sector.
Dr Omar Shakoor is the pharmaceutical services director at wholesaler Mawdsleys.