With the rising gravity of the coronavirus pandemic, the role of pharmacists in dispensing medicine and contributing to healthcare is growing on a daily basis. To cater to the growing needs of patients, The Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) has partnered with the Health Education England along with the Royal College of General Practitioners to provide access to free online workshops for community pharmacists across England. A spokesperson from the RPS describes how they aim to “strengthen the close working relationship between general practice and pharmacy,” through this digital platform. In addition to this, the role of digital pharmacies and technological solutions are also being spotlighted in the industry.
As of 2019, over half of the patients in England have chosen a community pharmacy to dispense their prescriptions using the electronic prescription service and almost two-thirds of medicines in England are now being dispensed in this way. Instead of paper prescriptions, almost everything is being done online. Furthermore, they describe how a rising number of online apps and websites are competing with brick and mortar pharmacies, aiming to capture a portion of the market. Currently, statistics show that Pharmacy2U has the highest dispensing rate out of all online pharmacies, selling an average of 430,981 items every month from 2018-2019. In addition, statistics from Good Housekeeping show that there has been a 92% increase in mental health medication dispensed to 20-29 year-olds between March and July this year. The online store plans expand by opening up a new facility in Leicester, which aims to be six times as large as the facility it currently operates in Leeds. Scheduled to be operational by 2021, they can potentially dispense a total of 7.5 million prescriptions per month.
On the other hand, high street chains like Rowlands Pharmacy and Boots are countering this move by launching apps that allow patients to order repeat prescriptions for home delivery or for placement in collection lockers. In the context of the pandemic, this can minimise face-to-face interactions with pharmacists unless it is required. In addition, physical pharmacies can become more competitive by streamlining the payment process. FIS Global describes how making use of multiple payment channels, such as online, in-store, and across devices can increase their competitive advantage. In addition, simplifying payment acceptance and clarifying medical jargon for regular customers can give them a greater understanding of their medication. While the convenience of online deliveries can’t be denied, they also can’t deliver the same level of personal care that local pharmacies have to offer. Delivery delays and unforeseen circumstances can also impact the availability of medicine, which can be an issue for patients who need it urgently. Building a high level of trust and ensuring patient safety should remain top priorities for every pharmacy.
Around the world, telehealth and other integrated forms of technology are also becoming more widespread. In the United States, Mobi Health News reports a recent partnership between two major healthcare companies, aiming to reduce the time between medication orders and delivery. Patients receiving virtual healthcare services can set preferred times for home delivery, review medication payment information, online chat with pharmacists, and receive medication reminders. In the near future, it is possible that UK pharmacists may do something similar. A toolkit from the NHS also presents barcode scanning technology as an option for UK pharmacies to adopt to facilitate decommissioning, reducing errors in the dispensing process. With the further incorporation of cutting-edge technology, community pharmacies, and online versions can provide an even higher quality of service for patients.