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Technology in your pharmacy – are you using or abusing?

Published on 29th July 2019 - Last update on 7th August 2019

The UK healthcare sector not only has aspirations to be a world leader in digital technologies - the NHS Long Term Plan promises that digitally-enabled care will go mainstream. The philosophy behind it is that using technology should provide better care and save public money. The Secretary of State has made it clear that he and the government expect all providers of health services to embrace this approach – and is looking at pharmacy technology as a particular priority.

But technology has had a history of problems in the NHS and, across the pharmacy sector, there is still resistance. Could this be because key technology is not being properly used?

It seems the answer is yes - many retail pharmacies even lack a functioning website. Many have outdated computer equipment. Hub and spoke presents real problems among parts, at least, of the independent sector.

This may need to change – and change fast. Technologies, such as automated dispensing facilities, hub and spoke dispensing, apps including artificial intelligence and novel delivery mechanisms, as well as tele-pharmacy, could all crucial to remaining a profitable business. If you run an independent high street pharmacy, and if your business is not ready to take advantage, you could be at a serious disadvantage.

Used wrongly, technology could cost money and alienate customers – but if you get the answers right, you could make your pharmacy a great deal more efficient, and profitable – and help many more people.

So what could a pharmacy that uses technology properly look like?

Start using Apps

Increasing numbers of your customers, along with the rest of the population, are glued to their smartphones, using them not just to communicate but to access the internet – everything from money management to booking holidays.

The NHS Apps Library means that they can start managing their healthcare too.

The NHS Apps Library went live in February. It provides a place for patients and the public to find trusted and safe apps and digital tools to help improve their healthcare and take more control of their treatment. There are many apps, but the most important titles or you may be :

  • DIMEC: an app to order NHS repeat prescriptions
  • Echo: delivers repeat prescriptions free of charge; reminds patients when and how to take their medication
  • Healthera: connects users to an approved local pharmacy

You need to know about these apps – because they could be bringing business through your door.

If your business is making full use of them, customers will be able to call into you to pick up their prescriptions without waiting.

Automation in your pharmacy

Automation, and integrating your automated dispensing system with those apps, can ensure that prescriptions are ready when customers call in.

This sounds as though it removes the human touch – but the reverse should actually prove to be true. You want to give your customers individual attention and, to do this, old-style manual working practices must be left behind. Greater use of automation in pharmacy could actually free up your time to offer new services.

Hub and spoke, automated MDS dispensing and dispensing robots are just some of the technologies that could all improve efficiencies and put some time back into your day time to spend with customers and bringing the opportunity to carry out additional services and earn extra revenue.

Automation means enhanced accuracy, safety, dispensing efficiency and date rotation. But there is more to pharmacy technology than a robotic dispenser.

Are you still using manual book-keeping? A desktop accounts programme could let you take care of the paperwork, and many will let you scan invoices directly.

Are you calling customers when prescriptions are ready? Stock management systems and customer management can both be integrated with your dispensing – the latter will even send a text message when a prescription is waiting.

Patient deliveries can also be scanned into the system. The delivery driver can have a handheld device with each script scanned out to a patient at their home and a signature taken to confirm receipt. You can even remotely track the delivery driver, see which deliveries have been made – and which are still in transit.

Access patient records – and communicate

Patients’ summary care records (SCR) can now be available and integrated into your existing IT systems.

NHSmail is now available in 95 per cent of community pharmacies but further developments are also planned – with additional features, such as instant messaging and video calling being examined.

This means better communication about health issues. For example, NHS Digital is working with the Professional Records Standards Bureau to establish a standard data set for recording flu vaccination data so it can be sent digitally from pharmacies to GP surgeries.

It all means that, in future, if you have a customer registered with you, you may be able to have their prescription ready as soon as the doctor writes it - and have the time to talk to them about the best way to use it. 

What about the costs?

Maximising the use of IT in pharmacy is a big challenge. The upfront cost can often pose a barrier, but the real cost is in not adopting the solutions available – putting your business at a disadvantage.

Fortunately, there are several financial solutions available to you. As a retailer, a Merchant Cash Advance might be a simple way to raise the funds you need to invest in retail equipment. With this, the advance is repaid when customers pay by card - a percentage deduction is made from each transaction. 

A business loan could provide a simple way to spread the cost of a dispensing robot scaled for your business. A very large automated system might require a Secured Loan, with security provided by your business premises - although Asset Finance may be able to reduce costs still further. This type of finance is designed to provide the cost of equipment, by securing the funds on the asset itself. This reduces the risk to the lender, and so, in turn, reduces the size of the interest you pay and hence your monthly repayments. It could allow you to have the dispensing system you need in your pharmacy for the lowest initial cost.

Getting the most appropriate kind of finance for each investment is essential. By coming to us at Rangewell, you can find cost-effective ways to raise the finance that is most appropriate for you. Our business finance experts include specialists in the pharmacy sector who can help you find the most appropriate and affordable ways to secure the finances you need to put pharmacy technology - and the future - within reach.

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Richard Mitchell

Richard Mitchell

Content writer
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