When patients walk into your retail pharmacy, what do they think? What do they experience? Understanding their thoughts and experiences will help you deliver more personalized care and prepare your business for future success.

But there’s no time to waste. What’s happening in the healthcare market and with your patients right now may be out of step with what’s happening at your pharmacy. Let’s talk through that potential disconnect and how pharmacy innovations can help you reconnect with your patients.

Dynamics reshaping the pharmacy market

Much of what’s happening in healthcare is out of your control. That can be a real challenge. Or, you could see it as an opportunity. We see four trends that can be catalysts for your pharmacy’s transformation:

1. An aging population. The population is getting older, and as it gets older, more people will have chronic medical conditions. Aging acute-care systems won’t be able to keep up. There will be a lot of pressure to care for these chronically ill patients outside of the hospital.

2. Earlier diagnoses. Pharmacies have traditionally viewed older patients as their customer base. But thanks to more and better health screenings, providers are diagnosing chronic illnesses in younger patients. Younger patients have different health needs.

3. Rising expectations. All patients now have higher consumer expectations. They’re not just comparing their experience at your pharmacy with that of another pharmacy. They’re comparing their experience at your pharmacy with other retailers in other industries.

4. Eager disruptors. While many of us bemoan all the downward pressure on margins, other players look at the economics of the retail pharmacy business and find them appealing. They see a huge opportunity. Be prepared for disruptors to come to your industry.

Patient needs for the pharmacy of the future

There are some things that you can control. There are some pharmacy innovations you can be a part of simply by responding to patient needs. We survey a lot of pharmacy patients, and they tell us consistently that pharmacies are not meeting the following three needs:

1. Ease of pharmacy. Patients say it’s just not that easy to go to the pharmacy and do basic things. That could be as simple as finding the time to go to the pharmacy or finding the means to travel there. It could be getting a prescription filled. They also don’t want to have to repeat the same story they told you the last time they went in.

2. Feeling cared for. Patients say they don’t feel cared for when they go to the pharmacy. You need to do more than just know their names. A big part of not feeling cared for is when pharmacies ignore barriers to adherence, like giving arthritis patients their pills in hard-to-open packaging.

3. Help with health. Patients tell us that being a good patient is hard. They want more help from their pharmacies to keep them on track. They don’t want their pharmacists to hand them their prescription bags and that’s it. They’re looking for more help to keep them as healthy as possible.

When you combine the four market trends that are changing healthcare with the three insights from our patient surveys, you now have a blueprint to “build” the pharmacy of the future.

Let’s look at some of the pharmacy innovations in processes, technology and people that will make this transformation possible.

Processes change the patient experience

A patient’s experience with the pharmacy of the future will be a true omni-channel experience. They will engage with their pharmacy in many ways. In fact, their experience won’t start with walking in the door. It will probably start on their couch when they use a mobile device to contact their pharmacy.

When the patient does go to the pharmacy, that physical experience will be an extension of their virtual visit. The interaction will mirror the experience they have with other retailers. An analogy would be checking in for your flight at home and then going to the airport.

Another process change will be how patients get their prescriptions. Patients will be able to fill their orders online and have their drugs delivered to their home. This process will also be similar to their experience with other retailers.

Patients will probably always need to go to their pharmacy for some human interaction. But that interaction will be much different in the future than it is today. Today, most patients come in to get a prescription filled. With that need eliminated by other processes, patients will come in for a variety of personalized clinical services like:

  • Adherence counseling
  • Adjacent therapies
  • Behavioral counseling
  • Chronic disease management
  • Health education
  • Immunization programs
  • Nutritional counseling
  • Pharmacogenetics testing
  • Point-of-care testing

Such high-touch services will provide the nudge that patients say they want from their pharmacies. And they won’t have to tell their pharmacist again why they came in, because they will have communicated that during the virtual part of their experience.

Tech support for the pharmacy of the future

Pharmacy innovations of the technological kind fall into three buckets. The first is information technology to run everything we’re talking about. The second is back-end technology that can automate manual tasks and improve workflow. The third is medical technology involved in direct patient care.

The information technologies include:

  • Data tracking for adherence, patient risk stratification and personalization
  • Digital tools and mobile apps that connect patients to your pharmacy
  • Customer relationship management (CRM) software that allows anyone working at the pharmacy to pick up a patient interaction where it left off
  • A central platform that integrates the CRM with all other systems, such as the pharmacy management system and point-of-sale system

The back-end technologies include:

The medical technologies include:

  • Smart drug packaging to improve adherence
  • Digiceuticals to help patients with their drug therapies
  • Point-of-care testing medical supplies and equipment

People and personalities make it all work

The pharmacy of the future will focus almost exclusively on personalized patient care. Everything in the pharmacy will support the personalized care that the pharmacy provides. That includes the people working there. And that starts at the front end of the pharmacy.

The front-end staff will be experts in health, prevention and wellness. They will be able to triage patients when they come in, give them medical advice, direct them to therapy-specific kiosks, have them meet with the pharmacist and recommend that they see a physician. They will be the concierges that guide patients through their pharmacy experience.

If the pharmacy offers adjacent healthcare services and other high-touch clinical services, it will need to hire or contract with other clinicians. And it will need tech-savvy people to manage all the new information, back-end and medical technologies that support this new business model.

The pharmacy of the future will need new skill sets, competencies and service expectations to be successful. That means it will also need new talent management protocols to find, recruit and retain the right people and to be able to scale its staff as the pharmacy expands its operations.

This is a major shift in how your retail pharmacy will operate in the future. Your pharmacy will change from being a point of transaction to a point of interaction. Now, when a patient walks into your pharmacy, they think you’re trying to sell them something. In the future, the first thing they’ll think is, “These people want to take care of me.” And it will be those people and personalities that drive your brand.

Related: Learn more about McKesson’s pharmacy management software and services for pharmacies

William George

About the author

William George is Vice President, NextPx and Retail Transformation for McKesson Canada. His mandate is to lead the design of a new and differentiated pharmacy patient experience; to test and pilot it; and to design the optimal business model. Previously, he was Vice President of Marketing for the McKesson Canada Retail Banner Group, which is comprised of 6 pharmacy brands with over 2000 locations. Before joining McKesson, he held several senior management positions in strategy, business development and marketing in other retail organizations.

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