This morning I received a text from a company delivering my new sunglasses. I was able to select a day and time when it suited me to receive the goods – for a fee, of course. Like most people, I’ve come to expect service that not only has an increased level of personalisation, but that recognises that I don’t have time to spare and wait in for delivery drivers. I wouldn’t expect to receive this service for free.
Contrast that with pharmacy deliveries.
What started out as a very necessary service for the infirm and chronically ill when there were few other options, is now used by countless able-bodied people of working age. Yet now, despite the ‘omnichannel’ age, we send our friendly delivery drivers to our customers wherever they are, whoever they are, and whatever their ‘medication’ – whether that is metformin, contraception or gluten-free bread.
We’ve painted ourselves into a corner and built an expectation among our customers that we are now too frightened to renege on. Virtually all pharmacies offer this service – completely free of charge – and it’s costing us a fortune, not to mention inefficient routes and numerous vans contributing to pollution and congestion.
In some cases, the delivery service may be covering up a supply issue or poor stock control. These are important business issues that should be tackled head on.
The truth is that as home delivery becomes more commoditised, there is less interaction with a pharmacist.
At a recent AAH customer advisory group I heard a lot of discussion about stopping free deliveries, but so many independents see it as a cost of doing business and believe that if they don’t offer this service, their competitors will, and they will lose valuable custom. Despite the talk of starting to change delivery services, few community pharmacies are willing to take a chance and, even though the financial pressures of the funding cuts in England are impacting hard, there’s no sign of contractors taking such a risky decision.
Taking the lead
That’s why we’re taking the lead. Lloydspharmacy is going to start charging new customers for home delivery and we are planning a pilot for charging all customers. Independent pharmacies may choose to follow our lead – some may not – but I believe that a multiple pharmacy making the first move allows smaller operators to make a choice.
Patients will still have access to a number of other options; our online service provides free delivery of prescriptions, and we also offer 'click and collect'.
We know that half of people take their medicines incorrectly; one-to-one contact with a healthcare professional allows us to reinforce lifestyle messages, educate patients about their medicine, and can contribute to adherence. Bringing customers back into pharmacy allows us to perform those interventions more frequently.
Patient safety is paramount and I would never compromise on that, but we should leverage the value of meaningful interaction between patients and pharmacists about medicines. We want to engage more closely with these patients, who in many cases won’t have had face-to-face interaction with their pharmacist for some time. This gives us a great opportunity to talk to them about their health and better understand their needs.
We currently deliver track and trace for our 'Enterprise' business customers. The infrastructure doesn’t yet exist for our consumers, but it is certainly my aspiration. We’re also looking at how we develop a value-added service.
I believe that community pharmacy needs to innovate to reflect changing customer needs, but also play to our strengths: the accessibility of services and advice that can help take the burden off an overstretched NHS.
Catherine McDermott is operations director for Celesio UK