The Alphega Pharmacy European Convention told pharmacists to embrace an exciting new digital age whilst never forgetting its roots. Neil Trainis reports from Monte Carlo…
The opulence and extravagance of Monte Carlo was in a sense an ideal setting for a conference that was determined to showcase the richness of independent pharmacy’s offering to healthcare systems across Europe.
One could not imagine that many of the pharmacists who arrived at the Grimaldi Forum to attend the seventh Alphega Pharmacy European Convention were in the habit of driving around the types of Bentleys, Rolls-Royces and Ferraris that adorned showrooms in the prinicipality.
Impressive though they were, it was the depth of independent pharmacy’s existing health service offering and the scope of their potential to deliver more under the Alphega Pharmacy brand that truly impressed.
‘Stay Independent, Lead the Future,’ read an imposing green banner outside the Grimaldi Forum. The message was replicated on a large screen in the conference theatre from where delegates from the eight countries that make up Alphega’s European network of independent pharmacies, the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Russia, Czech Republic, Germany and Holland, were told to go digital.
That message was not particularly new given that in 2013 Stefano Pessina, now the acting chief executive of Walgreens Alliance Boots, stood on the stage at the Grimaldi Forum and spoke about what he described as “a real digital revolution” where patients could transfer all their relevant health information such as temperature and blood pressure to their doctor through a smart phone.
This time the conference heard that it was not so much the digitalisation of pharmacy that mattered but the digitalisation of patient care that mattered and pharmacists were advised to get on board.
They were enlightened about a finger prick test in Walgreens stores which, they were told, was “a revolution.” There patients can have their blood tested in laboratory conditions and results sent to their Blackberry or iPad.
Alphega showed delegates an app designed to monitor moles in the pharmacy. That, Soren Bo Christiansen, European president at MSD said, was as “a game changer,” before pharmacists were reminded, if they needed reminding, that they needed to ensure they were reimbursed sufficiently for that type of service. And then there was technology to measure cardio health and the risk of cardio disease.
Few would doubt that the younger generation of pharmacists would be able and willing to grasp such emerging technologies but still a question mark hangs over the older generation of pharmacists.
Ornella Barra, the executive vice president of Walgreens Boots Alliance and a qualified pharmacist, was in no doubt that the older generation of pharmacists are au fait with technology.
“I’m confident because also myself I am the older generation,” she said with a smile as she spoke to reporters from across Europe. “In reality I have the Blackberry, the iPhone, the iPad, the laptop, I am completely flexible.
“In reality my office is my Blackberry, my phone, my laptop, my iPad. I am totally available with the technology and I am confident with my colleagues from pharmacy because I remember several years ago (they) introduced the faster laptop, the faster computer in the pharmacy. It’s a business solution. The older generation…technology is part of their life now.”
Caitlin Sorrell, the managing director of Alphega Pharmacy Europe, said the ability and willingness of pharmacists to grasp technology within the pharmacy was not determined by their age.
“I don’t think it’s a generational thing. Increasingly older generations are getting more and more involved in technology,” she said. “And the second thing I would say about pharmacists in the UK specifically is they have a duty for continued professional development.
“We should be very proud of the fact that they do have to constantly acquire new skills and this is a skill like any other that they can acquire.”
Not that Alphega’s members were told to go it completely alone. Alphega said it would help pharmacies to create their own individual websites, starting with its members in France.
“The transaction is with the pharmacy,” Sorrell insisted. “Whatever purchase the pharmacist makes online is his. How we fund it, whether we fund it from manufacturer revenue, how we fund it from pharmacists, in France we are looking to ask for a monthly subscription for the site.
“In future we may incorporate it into the monthly fee. Those are things that are still to be determined once we’ve got a bit more experience but what it is not about is taking a cut in the transaction because the transaction is made between the pharmacy and the customer.
“That is what (is) meant by individual pharmacy sites. Not only are they branded to the individual pharmacy but the transaction is between the pharmacy and the customer not between Alphega and the customer.”
And so Alphega members went away with an all-too-familiar message; pharmacy must provide services not just medicines. The online drugs revolution, Barra said, did not take off because people wanted the human touch of a pharmacist.
Ultimately it did not matter if pharmacists had all the technologies available to them. Without that human touch, she insisted, ‘it’s a lost battle.’ But for independent pharmacy in the UK at least, the battle goes on.

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