How can independent pharmacies create a sustainable future?

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Written by Norman Niven, CEO of medication management specialist Protomed Reliance on NHS funding from the dispensing of prescriptions in the UK will...

Written by Norman Niven, CEO of medication management specialist Protomed

Reliance on NHS funding from the dispensing of prescriptions in the UK will see the death of a large number of our local pharmacies over the next few years as payments are reduced and new service payments are introduced. And yet what are pharmacies doing about this? They are reducing investment in business development activity, marketing and, most worryingly, reducing their staff numbers.  

But for those that do manage to hang on, cutbacks in staff will also have their cost. Resources spread thin on the ground will lead to increased dispensing errors, reduced levels of customer service and an inability for pharmacies to serve their customers as they should; things that all community pharmacies have devoted years to improving.

To compound this, pharmacies are increasing their involvement in screening services and we are noting a marked reluctance to look for business in new markets. It appears that for many businesses, it is ‘backs to the wall time’ and that means reducing all overheads, cutting costs and sitting as still as possible in a corner until everything is okay again. Only on this occasion, all will not be okay again unless we do something about it, and now.

The industry must realise that the ‘good old days’ have gone (many pharmacies will have blinked and missed them) and that pharmacy will become as unforgiving as any other business market; the future is looking bleak for those who are not prepared to make a change – and a significant one at that.

Trying to change the model, encourage pharmacies to diversify and demand a “fee for service and not free for service” is something we at Protomed and our pharmacy partners have been working towards for a long time. It is not a new concept for the industry; people have been talking about it for years. But if we do not find a new financial model soon and create a sustainable future for independent pharmacy then there will not be many left around, which will be a genuine shame.

So where does the answer lie and what is Protomed doing to help? There is a real opportunity for technology companies with a genuine focus on improving patient care and compliance, such as Protomed, to offer community pharmacies a completely new business model and take a more pragmatic approach than the government is currently offering. Without innovation and the means to offer services that people consider worth paying for, then the doomed reliance on dispensing for core income will not change.

For example, Protomed provides its pharmacy partners in the UK and across Europe and the US with a number of products that reduce drug wastage, improve patient medication compliance and make care homes more efficient. But perhaps most importantly for the future of pharmacy, they provide independent community chemists with a means to compete with the UK’s ever-growing presence of large multiples. Giving our partners the tools to attract very profitable care home business as well as the ability to charge a fee for valuable services is giving them a much-needed income away from the shrinking resources of the public sector. 

BeMAR, Protomed’s Biodose electronic MAR, is the world’s first medication administration record system for care homes that incorporates iPad and barcode scanner technology to ensure patients receive the right medication, in the right dosage and at the right time. Protomed worked with technology partner Socket Mobile to bring BeMAR to market, which has removed medication errors in some care homes completely, and reduced round times by up to 60 percent in many instances. 

BeMAR has given pharmacies just this solution: a service that care homes want to pay for and has tangible and real benefits to patient’s health and their business. For the pharmacy, they gain a profit stream that comes from providing a system that they do not have to pay for.

According to the Pharmacy Group of the European Union, pharmacies in Spain reduce the burden on the nation’s health services by one quarter and community pharmacies in Europe lighten the load on other primary care services by 25 to 29 percent of the whole care system. We need to save this dying arm of the health service before the gangrene sets in. But pharmacies need to take action first to save themselves, and soon.

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