Did the pandemic trigger a shift in the role of community pharmacy? How can it better support primary care networks in supply?
The 2020 pandemic put the spotlight on UK primary and tertiary care services like no other time in its history. From the unjustified public persona of care homes as "hubs of deaths" to GP surgeries organising mass vaccinations in their thousands at scales unwitnessed in peacetime.
Yet community pharmacy have been unsung heroes to the care system since this all began. Battling through the pandemic and taking on a wave after wave of digital registrations from patients with no other option but to be forced on-line. As with their colleagues in the wider health service, pharmacies needed to step up to a high plate and put in the work to help serve a community siloed, frustrated and confined. After that hill was climbed, with many of the troops tragically lost along the way, they batted a blinder!
But what next for community pharmacy? Those in the profession understand pharmacies exist on a breadline. Constantly juggling NHS tariff, medicine distribution and supply shortages to eek out a living in the space between the three. Many pharmacy appliances (walk-in pharmacies to you and me) try hard to augment their public offering with private sales of vitamins, sanitary products, monitors, batteries and advisory sessions.
Yet, it often fails to remain viable, the pandemic and online shopping put an end to the private footfall. Leaving chains to start closing high-street stores and forcing patients to fend for themselves in to the open market.
The Innovator's Dilemma
Yet, many pharmacies are capitalising on a digital presence they long forgot about. Updating websites, joining affiliate schemes and applying drop-shipping to their digital space, each adds a modicum to bread and butter dispensing services. Pioneering pharmacies lead the way in technology adoption. Surpassing the health service's rate, despite last year's wakeup call.
Pharmacies like Alphabet Pharmacy in Stretford. A suburban area in the borough of Trafford, Greater Manchester, is a little pharmacy solving big problems. Partnering with Axelisys to enhance their digital presence during the pandemic, is another step in their digitisation journey from humble beginnings in 2016. Alphabet's online pharmacy aimed to bring the personal touch to the digital space by offering free deliveries, online consultations, medicine reviews and advice sessions through popular video conferencing platforms like Skype and WhatsApp. At their inception, they were ahead of their time, but the pandemic has brought new vigour to this part of their business.
They've have gone further and were the first UK pharmacy to go live with a new cutting edge digital supply chain. Hosting an Automedi machine that supplies care partners, homes, colleagues and the general public with a cost-effective, flexible backup supply in the case of supply shortages or general purchases. Ensuring the problems of April 2020 never happen again and striking the fine balance on behalf of GP surgeries, care homes and district nursing. Ensuring their don't need a minimum order.
Supply: The Pharmacy Future
This leads to a tantalising prospect. Instead of remote manufacturers producing products that go through multiple links in the supply chains to get to primary care and sit there, unopened, unused and often wasted, pharmacies can produce items, to order, on-demand.
Automedi's fixed monthly subscription reverses problems in the NHS payment model. A fixed price monthly subscription lets pharmacies charge whatever they like to become the primary care suppliers of non-medical equipment directly. Allowing the margin to grow based on demand, not shrink at the mercy of drug tariffs. While strengthening the link between these two actors in the Primary Care Network at the same time.
Need pill splitters? The pharmacist
Blood tube racks? The pharmacist
How about mask frames? The pharmacist can prepare that too
Tube clips? The pharmacist
Also allowing pharmacies themselves to cross-sell products to alternative markets.
Healthcare need never again tell patients "You'll need to order it" or "We'll need to order it" and subject the patient a week or more of waiting. Simply direct them to the pharmacy and they'll create the cost-effective alternative. Making a living in the process. Coming off the coat-tails of medicine and taking centre stage, where they've rightly always belonged.