Why digitalisation can reverse the decline of pharmacies
SummaryWith the NHS under immense pressure and pharmacies increasingly under the spotlight, digital solutions can help them adapt to best serve patients.
- Author Company: Charac
- Author Name: Santosh Sahu
- Author Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Author Website: https://charac.co.uk
Stories of NHS waiting lists and a shortage of GPs are becoming all too common headlines in the British press, with pharmacies often pointed towards as a solution to ease the stress felt deeply in the healthcare sector.
However, pharmacies have their own set of pressures to contend with. Indeed, between 2015 and 2022, some 40% community pharmacies closed in 20% of the most deprived areas of England, with a recent study revealing that over 90% of pharmacies are experiencing staff shortages.
With recently reappointed health secretary Steve Barclay just this month stating that he is looking at how England can progress ‘Pharmacy First’ to alleviate pressures on the NHS, it is clear that if pharmacies are to flourish on the frontline they must be equipped with the tools required to safeguard their future. A potential way forward is to help them digitise through online platforms that can provide pharmacists with the time to deliver the wider range of services needed against this demanding backdrop.
The issues facing pharmacies are not going to go away without transformative action. The National Pharmacy Association recently warned that up to 3,000 pharmacies are at risk of closure in the next two years, following NHS funding and double-digit inflation.
Meanwhile, increased pressure is being placed on pharmacies to deliver primary care. With more than 35 conditions no longer being prescribed medication by GPs, pharmacists are the next port of call to diagnose and prescribe treatment for conditions including conjunctivitis, infant colic and cystitis. In addition, if they spot "red flag" symptoms, such as a persistent cough, pharmacists will also be able to refer patients directly to cancer specialists under a new NHS pilot programme. The programme, which is set to launch later this year, aims to boost patient outcomes by improving early detection rates – all while placing pharmacists in a key position to help with degenerative disease diagnosis. These additional responsibilities clearly present the opportunity pharmacies have in delivering critical primary care.
However, many community pharmacies lack online services, meaning that a lot of their time is spent arranging prescriptions manually instead of doing consultations, the latter of which is valuable as they can claim income from the NHS on those delivered. Compounding the issue, many customers are unaware of the valuable services that their pharmacist can offer, such as blood pressure readings, flu vaccines and sexual health testing.
By digitalising their services, community pharmacists would be able to better manage their time – repeat prescriptions could be efficiently organised, and consultations could be done online or booked in advanced. What’s more, by having a digital presence, pharmacists can better advertise the services they offer, ensuring that customers are aware of what they provide.
Prescribing a digital solution
However, digitalisation can be a daunting task for community pharmacies – many of whom lack the capital or skills required, while feeling the growing demands from patients who are looking for solutions online, and often turning to online pharmacies which do not offer the same level of care.
There is, however, a remedy already available in the market. An economical patient relationship management system, such as that offered by Charac, enables community pharmacies to log their activity, administer repeat prescriptions and book in consultations that can be administered online or in-person. Many diagnoses are able to be done virtually or via a visit to the pharmacist, who is able to either refer the patient to a GP or offer over-the-counter medication.
Charac’s app also offers bespoke marketing capabilities, providing community pharmacies with much needed exposure and promotion.
Securing a ‘Pharmacy First’ future
With the NHS under increased pressure and the government supportive of a ‘Pharmacy First’ approach, there’s never been a better time for community pharmacies to increase awareness of their breadth of services to best enable them to provide their local populations with much-needed care.
By diving in to digital, community pharmacies will be able to provide a level of primary care once reserved solely for GPs and cement their rightful place on the high street.