From a while we read, write and we discuss about the difficulties community pharmacy is facing. All of us know about closures, decreasing turn-over and profit that both independent contractors and large group had in the last 12/18 months. But is there any alternative strategy or solution for avoiding this?
For sure community pharmacy don’t have to take any decision or make any changes reducing the quality and the quantity of services to patients. It is easy to understand that patients will never accept a lower service or any limitation to their convenience. This assumption is clearly true in any age but now it is even more because the entire industry is under the challenge of digital pharmacy and other solutions coming in the next future.
Has to be said that pharmacy closure, decreasing turn-over and profit are just the result of different causes. So something is happening and has to be understood in the real details. If you don’t understand, you will not have any change to face the challenge. So community pharmacy has to start by investigating what is causing those negative results. Doesn’t matter if the pharmacy is working exactly as 10 or 20 years ago and in the past the business was always successful. Pharmacy has to check in the real details how the business works, where critical points are and how situations, behaviors and needs changed during the time.
Such an analysis is not always easy and sometime some distance from the daily operation can help to have a better view and understanding. That’s why some contractors are already hiring external consultant for such a job: it’s not always necessary but hiring an experienced person you can have new interesting information at your disposal.
As for our experience these researches and analysis usually shows that challenges are in a few key issues:
WAITING TIME. Community pharmacies are clearly trying to dispense more and more prescriptions but this effort brings more people to the pharmacy and waiting time can only increase. Waiting in a lane is not what patients want and it is more and more unacceptable in the age of click&collect. Consumer is used to receive his goods or service with a “click”, consumer is used to do shopping in the web where he has whatever he wants just by touching a button. This change in the behavior of the consumers is making the waiting time a real problem: patients find unacceptable waiting also a few minutes. If community pharmacy is uncapable to positively answer to this need, it can just loose customers and business.
CUSTOMER LOYALTY. More and more contractors don’t find a reason why patients are not coming back to them. They provide the same services as years ago, they pay the same attention to any needs of their patients…but patients don’t come back. Customer loyalty is not an easy goal to be achieved, but for understanding why it is declining you have to consider many different issues and from different point of view. What worked years ago is not sure it is still working today. What patient wants is not what always matching with pharmacist’s expectation. Are you sure patient always needs to talk with a pharmacist? Is it what he really needs? And in case patient needs pharmacist’s counselling, can he get it in the time and in the way he really needs?
OPENING TIME. Also opening time is an issue where pharmacist’s and patient’s needs are not always matching. Clearly the best option for patients would be a 24/7 solution, whereas pharmacy would prefer to focus services during central time of the day and not during week end. Finding the balance between those opposite interests is really challenging and easy solutions are not always working. Some community pharmacy tried to reduce the declining turn-over just increasing the opening time but it did not always work. They increased their costs but customer loyalty did not improve significantly. Once again there is not an easy receipt or solution to complex issues and probably for reaching one goal you have to work on many different details.
EFFICIENCY. If profit is an issue, a careful and efficient management of the entire process of delivering a prescription has to be organized. Each step of the workflow is important and economies can be done at any level as time and energies can easily be lost. So how the team works and the tools at their disposal can play an important role: how many times did a member of the staff lost valuable time just for finding a bag lost somewhere? How much time has been lost for finding missing data? How many “bags” have been worked out but never collected by patients? There a number of situations that can decrease efficiency in a pharmacy and each of them create problems, stress and at the end of the story they cost money and make patients unhappy.
Those issues are affecting the big majority of community pharmacies and the success of the pharmacy is strictly related to the ability in giving answers to each of them. At the same time the ones that are not taking care to them they can see their business just declining.
Community pharmacy are operating in a more and more competitive market, where new players and new technologies are coming. Last but not the least the consumer’s behavior is changing, it is more and more demanding and it is interested in services and support that were not existing just few years ago. Understanding these changes, analyzing those difficulties are the first step for transforming pharmacy in a sustainable business.