The pharmacy shop front, once a mainstay of every high street, is becoming increasingly rare. In the last seven years, high operating costs and rent overheads have led to the closure of over 800 pharmacies since 2015, a trend that shows no sign of reversal.
Researchers from University College London have estimated that, by 2024, up to 3000 pharmacies may have been lost. And when physical pharmacy outlets close their doors, patients and communities are often left in the lurch, without access to the essential services that pharmacists and pharmacies provide. Typically, it is vulnerable patient groups who are hit hardest by pharmacy closures, including older people and those without the means to travel long distances to alternative locations.
To cushion the blow dealt by pharmacy’s shrinking physical presence, global health systems are in the midst of an adaptation and innovation drive. Digital transformation is proving central to this process, with new infrastructures being created to manage every step of the patient journey by means that are untethered to a physical location. Phlo Connect is leading this transformation in the UK, delivering benefits to pharmacy providers, to patients and to population-level health outcomes.
The reasons behind the avalanche of recent pharmacy closures are complicated, but fiscal pressures are undoubtedly close to top of the list.
Running a pharmacy business profitably requires striking the right balance between the range of medications and services on offer, and the costs of providing these medications and services. But as government funding shrinks and the costs of everything from staff wages to store heating rises exponentially, pharmacy owners are facing tough choices. Savings must be made, either by ceasing the provision of certain services or by finding more efficient ways to offer them.
The way patients would like to interact with their pharmacy has also changed. Patients want convenience and flexibility when requesting and ordering their medication. In today’s world using technology to help make life easier is the norm and the pharmacy sector is not immune from this change.
This is where digital pharmacy innovators, including Phlo Connect, are stepping in, with solutions designed to make every step of the patient medication journey faster, more convenient and more sustainable.
One of the important applications of digital pharmacy infrastructure is to seamlessly support the consultation to prescription to medication delivery pipeline.
With the right digital platforms and APIs in place, patients can engage in a virtual consultation with a doctor, have any required prescriptions digitally signed (using Phlo Connect’s Advanced Digital Signing solution) and sent to a dispensing pharmacy, and then have the medication delivered to the location of their choice. Fully trackable, this process can be completed in a matter of hours (opposed to the days that paper-based prescribing systems require) and the patient does not need to leave their home.
It is, however, essential that digital pharmacy platforms are properly integrated - i.e. they can ‘talk’ to and share information with existing systems - if they are to minimise friction and reduce delay in the period between a clinician prescribing and the time that prescriptions are fulfilled.
The benefits of digital pharmacy are not restricted to patients. For clinicians, moving the prescription process into a digital space provides them with an end-to-end overview of the process, whilst reducing the time they must spend on signing and sending prescriptions. For pharmacists, fewer paper prescriptions and easier stocktaking allows time and resources to be conserved.
It is important to note that advocating for digital transformation in the pharmacy sector is not the same as advocating for a fully-online future for healthcare provision.
Local pharmacists will always have a critical role to play in supporting the health of communities, and some degree of physical presence must be maintained. However, we cannot let the pharmacy sector be left behind as the rest of the healthcare system modernises and evolves to meet new needs.
As digital transformation gains momentum, the challenge lies in ensuring a consistently high standard in the technologies deployed, and in educating patients and providers on how to access the newly-available benefits. This is a challenge Phlo Connect is rising to, as we support pharmacy providers to deliver consistently excellent service and collaborate to build a healthy future for pharmacy and for patients.
To find out more about how Phlo Connect can help your business, get in touch with the team.