Healthy living pharmacy or budget pharmacy?

The never-ending saga of having to adapt to a changing environment continues to confront community pharmacy. This article considers the best direction for your business.

Last year in the pages of this magazine I argued passionately for the role that community pharmacists must adopt to flourish and the reasons why this was necessary. Since then the pharmacy landscape in all four parts of the UK has changed as austerity starts to bite and new governing bodies start trying to shape the future. That future will ultimately be driven by economics as well as health outcomes.

What is definitely clear is that politicians are facing up to the reality that the future model for
the NHS is not the current one, which belatedly they recognise is not sustainable. The second step is how they inform the public what the future should be, and not commit political suicide at the same time. That is for them to decide and hence the main reason why community pharmacy cannot rely on them to deliver.

There is one thing that is crystallising in community pharmacy in the UK – again this is not unique to this country – that is the decision about whether to become a healthy living pharmacy. Elsewhere in the western world, in countries such as Australia, pharmacies are starting to be categorised as either budget or Healthy Living. Although a very crude method of defining community pharmacy it does have some relevance. Both fulfil all the traditional roles of community pharmacy, but the latter is embracing and promoting services such as blood pressure monitoring, cholesterol testing, medical reviews, etc, and driving an agenda that delivers on public health goals.

Essentially this is the same dilemma facing UK pharmacy – meet the new reality head on and embrace the healthy living dictum, or stay where I am. The one thing I tell our clients is that you cannot put your faith in government and wait for them, you have to shape your own future.

Time to change: The reality is that if you do not change you will face diminishing profit margins and a decrease in the value of your business. Let me illustrate what I mean. One of our customers has a dynamic dispensing business, with 99 per cent of turnover being NHS prescription income-related. He has experienced a 5 percent organic growth in prescription numbers over the past decade, yet his pro t margin is down year-on-year despite smart generic buying. He is running harder but is going backwards – a feeling common to many pharmacy businesses. This pharmacist has finally decided to go down a service orientated route that encompasses both NHS initiated services and his own private projects. This is after extensive market research and analysis which demonstrated people will pay for services and the healthcare goals of the authorities.

It has long been recognised that traditional pharmacy retail territory has been stolen by supermarkets, customer choice, and by technological advances in photo processing in particular. This has meant that community pharmacy has become too reliant on NHS prescription income and hence they become hostages to fortune.

If pharmacists can recognise that their business has to extend outside the NHS, and that dealing with other agencies and private companies is their territory, then they are on the path to developing a multi-income stream business. This is the biggest insurance against the vagaries of government policy and the unexpected.

The independent advantage: What is unique about your community pharmacy is you, your staff and the medical offering. This is something that no multiple can hope to replicate and this is your opportunity.

Make decisions about your business – question what you stock and why. Be ruthless – your area of expertise is healthcare. Focus on this and it becomes the basis of change. This is something that goes hand in hand with the decision to become a healthy living pharmacy.

This, coupled with training, excellent product mix, smart technology and marketing will help deliver a business model that is sustainable and growth orientated.

Marketing your business is vital – ask yourself how you are getting customers to spend in your pharmacy and take up your services. Then ask how to get other agencies and private companies to engage with you. Remember a website is not the holy grail – in fact I believe it to be a false god in the marketing of your business.

Fortunately, there are ways to achieve all these goals through the use of interactive technology. Touchscreen health information portals provide sales opportunities, health screening and a marketing tool direct to your customers. These systems can fully complement the service-driven aspect of the healthy living pharmacy concept with a holistic targeted approach.

The use of digital TV screens with dynamic content in a silent format to advertise your services, your special offers and what your health care offering comprises of is also vital. If you are not promoting your services and your business who will? You control these portals, which can be in-store or in your window, or both. This is marketing your business and allows you to go to those agencies and companies to say we are a serious health promotion business.

This is the time and this is the opportunity for community pharmacy. To go down the budget route is to passively accept slow decline and ultimately failure, while the healthy living pharmacy is the route that will provide a business with a multi- income stream with its roots in firmly in healthcare.