Digital Pharmacies – Showing the Way Forward for Community Care.
In the last decade we saw the rise of Irish Retail Pharmacies as major eCommerce players. Focusing on Fragrance, Skincare & Makeup they capitalised on an explosion in online interest. However, for local community centred pharmacies that had neither the range of product nor the price competitiveness required this tide did not provide the same lift
A community pharmacies core business is health care. Prescriptions & Advice are the lifeblood and that was rooted firmly in bricks and mortar. That is not a criticism online sale of pharmaceuticals is a minefield and online it was firmly associated with criminal elements. Both Stripe and Google have stringent rules around advertising or payment processing for anything even remotely pharmaceutical for this very reason. As far as advice goes, we are all familiar with the rabbit holes we can end up falling down thanks to Dr Google.
The IPU & HSE have been glacial in their approach to online and this is no bad thing considering the consequences of getting it wrong but as with many other aspects of business Covid 19 has changed the goalposts and an they have had to respond. We are finally seeing the emergence of truly digital pharmacies.
What does digital pharmacy mean? Let us start with prescriptions. In the old-world prescriptions are handwritten notes telling the pharmacists what medicines a patient must have. The patient would take their paper to their preferred pharmacy and the Pharmacists fills the prescription.
In the face of Covid the need for physical content had to be reduced, keeping in mind that those on regular pharmaceutical regimes were highly likely to be in the “at risk” category the pharmacy trade had to respond. For the pharmacy they began offering home delivery service for those in need. The HSE responded by relaxing the rules on how pharmacies receive prescriptions using an existing system (Health Mail) GPs for the first time ever were allowed to email your prescription directly to a pharmacy. This is the first step towards a fully digital prescription service. We believe that in the near future we will see the option to have the prescription emailed to a pharmacy of your choice or directly to yourself so that you can make a choice. Equally we believe that prescription delivery (Prescription by post) will be allowed and widely adopted. This has not happened yet but it has already existed in the UK for several years and its introduction will give community pharmacies the ability to finally embrace online tools to the same degree that their , more retail focussed, counterparts have.
But the digital transformation will not stop there as once you can receive your medicine remotely you must also be able to access advice in the same way. Live chat is all ready appearing more frequently and Covid has pushed us all into accepting video calls as a normal way to converse. Pharmacies will embrace digital communication allowing them to give advice and support to those who are further afield or unable to travel. In a few short years we will think nothing of joining a video call to seek advice from the experts on everything from Smoking cessation & nail biting to that weird rash. Pharmacies will see consultation rooms equipped with camera & screen as the new normal.
Digital pharmacy will not become virtual, at the end of the day many of us need to attend in person but there too digital tools have a role to play. The HSE have set the number of people likely to need Flu Vaccines this season at close to two million and until we can find alternatives to injections many of those will attend their local pharmacy. In the current climate pharmacies need a way of safely managing the Vaccine delivery whilst minimising the risk. Many pharmacies are already embracing digital tools to do just that.
totalhealth are one such brand and across most of their 80 stores you can now book a specific time and date to attend the pharmacy for your Vaccine. This can be done via their App or directly on their website in a matter of minutes. totalhealth have already begun to develop a full range of services that can be accessed via there growing digital footprint the Flu Vaccine is just the beginning.
This ability to organise a safe schedule for their customers is the driver of this change and the community are engaging with these options more readily than ever before
For pharmacies, the recent leap forward into digital transformation was born of necessity but the simplicity and convenience now on offer along with the growing familiarity across all age groups with digital tools mean that it is here to stay.