BY SANTOSH SAHU

The future of community pharmacies is in danger. With some 639 local pharmacies closing in England since 2016, action is clearly needed to ensure their longevity and maintain their rightful place on the high street.

With increasing pressure on the NHS, which is suffering from healthcare backlogs and long waiting lists following the harsh impact of the pandemic, pharmacies have an opportunity to create a more substantial contribution within the healthcare industry.

To ensure that pharmacies are able to embrace this opportunity, they need to be equipped with the necessary tools to enable them to meet the needs of an increasingly digital population.

One way of doing this is to support pharmacies online, by providing them with a means to connect to patients via mobile, tablet or desktop. In turn, the UK population needs to be more aware of the services that can be provided by a pharmacist – many of which would save them from visiting a GP.

GP shortages

In the UK, the number of people waiting for NHS treatment in England has increased every month over the past two years, reaching a record high of 6.6 million patients in May this year.

Increasingly, patients are put off booking appointments as they find it too difficult – and at times, it takes too long, with some spending up to 48 minutes on hold to a GP surgery, whilst the appointment itself can take weeks to arrange.

This, coupled with a lack of GPs nationally, has created opportunities for community pharmacies, which can often provide medication and diagnoses to patients without them having to visit a doctor.

Recently renewed guidance from the NHS has paved a way for pharmacists to issue treatment for some 35 conditions that no longer require a prescription. These include conjunctivitis, acute sore throat, head lice and infant colic – meaning that patients who suffer from these conditions can visit a community pharmacist to receive treatment.

In addition, under a new NHS pilot scheme, pharmacists will also be able to refer patients directly to cancer specialist if they spot ‘red flag’ symptoms, such as a persistent cough. The scheme, due to commence later this year, seeks to increase early detection rates and improve the outcome of patients – putting pharmacists in the front line to help in assisting with the diagnoses of degenerative diseases.

Coupled with blood pressure readings, flu vaccines and sexual health testing, pharmacies are able to provide services far beyond the dispensing of prescriptions and can thus support the NHS as it navigates through these challenging times.

Diversifying services

Many community pharmacies lack the capital and infrastructure to be able to keep up with patients who are increasingly looking for services online – whether that be via their mobile, or the internet.

By empowering these pharmacists with a digital platform, such as a patient relationship management system offered by Charac, they will be able to better log their activity and more efficiently manage their means of offering subscriptions and providing consultations.

In addition, they will be in a stronger position to compete with large, online pharmacies – many of which do not offer the same personalised, local service. By providing a repeat prescription platform, pharmacies will be able to optimally manage the experience for patients – who not only benefit from not missing a prescription, but can track and have these delivered to their home.

This also frees up time for pharmacists to work on more revenue-generating tasks, such as offering consultations virtually or in person, which can also be booked digitally.

By offering these, pharmacists ease the pressure on the NHS and are rewarded by the organisation for providing this service to patients. Many diagnoses are able to be done virtually or can be followed up by a visit to the pharmacist, who is able to either refer the patient to a GP or offer over-the-counter treatment.

Charac’s digital platform also means that pharmacies will be able to better advertise the services they provide, offering much-needed exposure for community pharmacists which often struggle to broadcast these on their own.

Future of pharmacies

With GPs under increased pressure, there’s never been a better time for local, independent pharmacists to increase awareness of their breadth of services and provide their communities with much-needed care.

Trusted pillars of the high street, these pharmacists are well-equipped to deal with many illnesses which would otherwise be left to a GP.

By embracing digital tools, community pharmacists will be able to keep up with the digital demand in their local areas while simultaneously providing a level of care not just reserved for doctors – enabling them to not only survive, but thrive.

(Santosh Sahu is CEO and founder of Charac.)

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