Even when pharmacies understand the value of core services to customers, if managing them is a significant drain on time and resource, they can feel compelled to cut back on them.
I know first-hand, for instance, that many pharmacies in the UK are using their staff to make deliveries, rather than employing professionally trained delivery drivers. Even, in less than ideal cases, pharmacies are delivering prescriptions in taxis for distribution to patients.
First, this risks the secure delivery of medication. Second, it diverts staff time away from working with patients, impacts their ability to run additional services, and means that senior members of the business waste time managing the operations of drivers.
In cases where a valuable service is a drain on internal resources and budget, pharmacies should seek other ways to deliver it. This could be by investing in new technology or working with external suppliers who already have the infrastructure in place.
Embracing innovation and technology
In recent years, pharmacy, and the NHS more broadly, has made technological innovation a cornerstone of its development. Pharmacies could learn more from the nimble ways in which companies in other sectors have embraced digital innovation as a means to win market share.
Firms like lastminute.com in the travel sector, or ASOS in the retail market, have leveraged technology as a means to make the personalised, added-value services they offer economically viable.
One of the most obvious ways technology could enhance operations within pharmacies is in how medication gets to patients’ homes. This could be through the use of handheld devices in place of paper manifests to communicate delivery information, optimising delivery routes to make them as efficient and time-effective as possible, or introducing secure points of handover to maintain a chain of custody.
Pharmacy teams recognise that delivery is often the final contact they have with a patient, so the desire to restrict it to a trusted circle of staff and tried and tested methods is understandable.
But this makes it more difficult to create an economically viable delivery proposition. The efficiencies offered by technology – particularly relating to real-time tracking, reporting and delivery scheduling – not only remove the administrative burden, but allow pharmacies to offer deliveries that can meet their patients’ needs.
There’s no denying that the UK’s pharmacies face a more challenging environment. But if they can draw on the tools at their disposal and take lessons from other sectors, there are still opportunities.
Darren Taylor is chief development officer at CitySprint Healthcare