Bhupinder Malhi, pharmacist and director at Hill Top Pharmacy in Sandwell in the West Midlands talks to Saša Janković about running allergy and food intolerance screening services.

Service type: Allergy and food intolerance screening services

Name and location of pharmacy: Hill Top Pharmacy, Sandwell, West Midlands

Name of superintendent pharmacist: Bhupinder Malhi

When did you start offering this service?

About five years ago.

Why did you start offering this service?

It starts with a personal story. My son was born with skin problems and after a couple of years of sleepless nights we began to look at what he was eating and eliminating certain things to see if that would help.

I also ordered an allergy testing kit to see if that could tell us more, and the results showed that he was allergic to oats and almonds. These were what we had been giving him for breakfast since he went onto solids as he seemed to like it, so we eliminated these and he improved.

This was the springboard for me to realise there must be other parents out there who were struggling with the same thing, so I looked at how to offer this in the pharmacy in a clinical setting, developed our own SOPs, and partnered with a company for food intolerance testing.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

The set-up cost was about £200.

What, if any, training did you or other team members have to undergo?

There is no set format of learning you need to do for intolerance training, but you do need to understand SOPs and have certain level of knowledge – and the company we work with provides the training for us. The allergy screening service we use is called Klarify, and they also provide training for us.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

Patients book in for an initial half-hour consultation with a trained-up member of my staff to gather information such as age, family history, medication they are on etc, so we can understand if they have an intolerance or an allergy, as people don’t always realise there’s a difference. We then decide with them what’s the best option for them.

The food intolerance screening tests for 57 of the most common food intolerances. We take a small blood sample and run the test in the pharmacy, and I can get the results in around six hours. After this the patient will get a 20-page report with the results and how to manage the intolerance through dietary changes and lifestyle advice, and they can come back to see me for a further follow-up if they wish.

If we identify that the patient is suited to an allergy test we taken them through a comprehensive consultation which takes 40 minutes. The allergy testing initially tests for over 290 different allergens, including household allergens, airborne allergens, animal skin, stings, and foods, and for this we take blood and send it off. The results are returned in about two weeks and we will go through them with the patient.

That’s our USP – we are here, convenient, and the patient can come back and see us in a few weeks, which is much quicker for them than having to wait six weeks or more to see a consultant.

Are there any opportunities to sell OTC or prescription products during or after the consultation?

Yes, this service does generate additional sales. For example, we can sell antihistamines, and with the allergy screening service we also offer other medicines via our PGDs depending on their results.

How have patients responded to the service?

We have had a great response from patients, with one person leaving us feedback saying the dietary changes they had made as a result of the food intolerance test had ‘drastically improved’ their gut health.

We had another customers who kept coming back to the pharmacy to buy IBS medicines, so we talked to her about the service and she ended up having the food intolerance test with us. She has since implemented the advice and told us that she can’t believe the difference it has made.

Roughly how often each month do you carry out the service?

I see an average of about four patients a month.

How much do you charge for the service?

The food intolerance test is £120 and the allergy screening is £200, which is a lot less than going to a private health clinic.

Roughly how much a month do you make from offering the service?

The margins are reasonable and you can still keep it affordable for customers. We clear about £60 per test for the allergy screening, and about £20 per food intolerance test.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

Yes, but remember that when you are trying to develop a service and patients are not used to paying in the pharmacy you have to give them value.

My local demographic was my initial reservation but when you look at how long it takes to get a GP referral for intolerance or stomach problems and yet so many patients still just end up on IBS medication which tends to not help but masks the symptoms, plus then if they want a further referral it’s a longer wait and consultants usually just tell them to change their diet to control it, I decided it was probably going to be of value to my customers.

Yes it costs money but these test can be done quickly and patients don’t mind paying as they are seen quickly and it helps them when they are suffering so much.

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