Going Digital Can Help Community Pharmacies Stay Competitive

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Article

The demand for pharmacies to play a larger role in the health care ecosystem will not dissipate anytime soon.

Pharmacies have become an increasingly important part of health care as they expand the services offered by their staff and move into providing primary care and clinical services. However, many retail pharmacies are grappling with high levels of staff and pharmacist dissatisfaction, termed “pharmaggedon,”1 due to the increasing demands. That burnout causes staff shortages which, in turn, lead to limited hours and long lines for prescriptions and vaccines—and that is before considering any added strain from service expansions.

Nonetheless, the demand for pharmacies to play a larger role in the health care ecosystem will not dissipate anytime soon. A recent survey found that 58% of Americans are likely to visit a local pharmacy as a first step when faced with a non-emergency medical issue, and 81% say they trust a pharmacist, nurse, or nurse practitioner to diagnose minor illnesses and prescribe medications to treat them.2 Additionally, according to the J.D. Power 2023 U.S. Pharmacy Stud released in July of last year, over 80% of traditional pharmacy customers indicate an interest in receiving health and wellness services at their pharmacy, an increase of 3 percentage points year over year.3

Telemedicine concept,Hand holding smartphone Medical Doctor online communicating the patient on VR medical interface with Internet consultation technology

Image credit: greenbutterfly | stock.adobe.com

How can the pharmacy balance the needs of their businesses and the experiences their customers want? Increasingly, the answer will be by going digital and adopting technology that can improve the experience of both pharmacists and consumers.

Here are 3 areas where digital can have an impact:

  • Alignment of health care information across the consumer health care experience. If a consumer visits a pharmacy, doctor’s office, or an urgent clinic, it makes sense that each provider is making decisions based on the same information. But there is no guarantee of this happening now. Pharmacies need to ensure that any decisions about treatment or drug regime are based on the same trusted and vetted content other health care organizations use. A single source of information could also reduce the support required when there is conflicting guidance that must be rectified and gaps in care information that must be aligned.
  • Go digital when providing information on care and drugs. Today, most consumers walk away from the pharmacy or quick clinic with a thick brochure of stapled paper describing their diagnosis, information on the drug, and adherence instructions, which is not how many consumers prefer to have their follow up information provided. This impacts both the consumer—who may have questions—and the demand on the pharmacy's time to provide support. Moving to digital would alleviate the issue and enable further engagement to improve adherence, encourage supporting activities (such as food or liquid intake or exercise), and ensure follow-up. It also makes updating information fast, giving access to the most current education throughout the course of therapy. It can also positively impact the bottom line by reducing the printing and paper costs for the pharmacy.
  • Enhanced patient engagement. Consumers require education to ensure adherence for drugs, follow-up appointments, aligned therapy, and additional care services. But it is not enough to just deliver this information; it must be delivered in the way most likely to engage the consumer. This means supporting multi-modal communication that meets the needs of savvy phone users and patients that may still use landlines. It also means providing content that is diverse and inclusive with both voice and artwork so that consumers see themselves. When patients get their education digitally, pharmacists can spend more time assisting patients with complex treatments or prescriptions, like self-injectables or strict dosing schedules, for greater medication adherence, satisfaction, and outcomes. A survey found that when supporting content is shared with them, patients have a better experience and are more satisfied with their care, and 68% said they are more likely to return to a provider that offers educational materials in the future.4

Pharmacists are trusted members of the health care team. However, challenges of the business post-COVID-19, where revenue has been reduced resulting in store closings and tighter hiring, can chip away at the trust and satisfaction. Technology isn’t the complete answer, but it offers the opportunity to both increase patient satisfaction and provide better care.

About the Author

Garry Marshall, MBA, is Director of Pharmacy Strategy for Clinical Effectiveness at Wolters Kluwer Health.

References

1. ‘Pharmageddon’ And the Future of Retail Pharmacies. NPR. November 2, 2023. Accessed January 29, 2024. https://www.npr.org/2023/11/02/1198908800/1a-draft-11-02-2023

2. Wolters Kluwer’s Pharmacy Next Survey shows 58% of Americans likely to first seek non-emergency healthcare at pharmacies. News release. Wolters Kluwer Health. May 17, 2023. Accessed January 29, 2024. https://www.wolterskluwer.com/en/news/survey-shows-americans-seek-non-emergency-healthcare-at-pharmacies

3. Retail Pharmacy Customer Satisfaction Surges as Digital Engagement Keeps Rising, JD Power Finds. News release. JD Power. July 27, 2023. Accessed January 29, 2024. https://www.jdpower.com/business/press-releases/2023-us-pharmacy-study

4. Heath, S. 94% of Patients Want Patient Education Content, But a Third Don’t Get It. Xtelligent Healthcare Media. February 16, 2023. Accessed January 29, 2024. https://patientengagementhit.com/news/94-of-patients-want-patient-education-content-but-a-third-dont-get-it

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