Digital transformation is essential if pharmacies are to survive
SummarySantosh Sahu, CEO and founder of Charac, discusses the importance of digital transformation in keeping pharmacies afloat
- Author Name: Santosh Sahu
With health services across the country under severe pressure, community pharmacies are finding themselves on the brink. Over 400 pharmacies closed in the last year, with one in ten chemist shops closing since 2015. Unless something is done, even more pharmacies are forecast to shut down. As pharmacies are built to function as the first point of contact for people looking for healthcare advice, it is crucial that they are given the necessary support to fulfil such a role.
Analysts have recently revealed that pharmacies are suffering a £67,500 annual shortfall due to a lack of government funding in line with economic growth. In addition to funding cuts, increased costs are severely crippling pharmacies. The cost of antibiotics used to treat infections, for example, rose by more than ten times towards the end of 2022, with suppliers charging £14.95 for a bottle of penicillin, up from £1.30 at the start of 2022.
However, funding difficulties are not the only problems pharmacies are facing. A lack of digitisation is leaving pharmacies hamstrung. In order for pharmacies to effectively support the NHS and take on a greater role in primary care, they must have access to the necessary technology and resources.
As 36% of pharmacy processes are manual, digitalising these processes in pharmacies can help tackle some of the key issues they face, such as increasing competition and pressure on pharmacists. The rise of online pharmacies and home delivery services, for instance, has increased competition for traditional pharmacies, being more accessible and efficient. However, online pharmacies lack the personability of going to your local pharmacy, where you can speak to a team of familiar health professionals and take advantage of other services. Moving processes online can help combat this, allowing patients to order medications to their doorstep.
A key issue that pharmacists face is a struggle to find the time to offer their full range of services. Charac found that 40% of calls to pharmacies are caused by a lack of clarity between patients and pharmacists, such as asking for status updates on prescriptions. By giving this information to patients through easily accessible apps, pharmacists can then save time to focus on services that bring in further revenue.
One such service is the New Medicine Service (NMS), a scheme that provides free help and advice for patients using new medications. This allows pharmacists to assist patients in using medicines safely and to their best effect, with pharmacies paid when follow-up reviews are conducted with patients. However, a lack of technology available means that patients are unable to book appointments and have these reviews over video call from the comfort of their own home. Without technology that would make information more accessible and clearer for patients, putting control in the hands of the patient, pharmacists lack the time and resources to do these follow-ups reviews, leaving pharmacies missing out on vital revenue. By upgrading technology, this relieves the pressure on pharmacists, streamlining processes and reducing the margin for error.
The knock-on effects of pharmacy digitalisation will also benefit the wider health service, which is facing so much pressure. By moving processes online, such as medical records, prescribing and dispensing systems, and consultations, for example, care becomes more accessible for patients and drives more patients to visit their local pharmacy instead of an overburdened GP or hospital.
Upgrading the online presence of pharmacies is essential, and one-stop digital platforms such as Charac are able to manage appointments and prescriptions digitally. Charac’s platform aims to increase the efficiency of pharmacies, giving pharmacists the time to conduct more revenue-boosting work, such as consultations and testing: pharmacists will not need to devote time to manually organise paperwork.
Charac’s platform also provides digital marketing services, managing advertising and website creation to generate a steady income independent of NHS funding, and publicise the services community pharmacies have available to local communities.
Digitisation such as this will be vital to tackling key problems such as staff shortages, as well as assisting with sky-high waiting lists and backlogs faced by the NHS. Following a £1 million investment from Royal Mail and partnership with the NPA, platforms such as Charac are being increasingly recognised as a digital solution to the pressure pharmacies are experiencing.
Without the necessary funding to survive, pharmacies need to look at other solutions. Using online platforms to digitalise processes will help pharmacies modernise and create an alternative source of revenue, while improving their ability to provide primary care. By providing remote consultations, prescriptions, and deliveries, the real impact of community pharmacies can be unleashed.