Mahyar Nickkho-Amiry, superintendent pharmacist and managing director of Dears Pharmacy and Travel Clinic, talks to Saša Janković about launching an allergy test-and-treat service.

Service type: Allergy test-and-treat service.

Name and location of pharmacy: Dears Pharmacy, Fife and Edinburgh.

Name of pharmacist: Mahyar Nickkho-Amiry, managing director and superintendent pharmacist.

Why did you start offering this service?

We started offering this service in November 2020. The ethos of Dears is that we want to get to a position where 30% of our revenue comes from non NHS-related income – whether that’s retail sales or private services – in order to remove our reliance on getting the bulk of our income from government. In order to do that our approach has been to invest heavily in expanding our pharmacy services. The motivation for us to start an allergy test-and-treat service was that we saw PharmaDoctor had introduced it and it had been something we had looked into setting up before, but we couldn't find one we wanted to do in the right way, in a pharmacy setting, that gave us the opportunity to review patients’ results and advise them on treatment or next steps – until now.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

We spent a couple of thousand pounds on setting the service up, but my approach is you have to invest in order to make money.

We buy the testing kit through PharmaDoctor, plus we’ve spent time and money on radio advertising, bag stuffers, and social media campaigns promoting the service. I also bought the domain name and set up a website that gives consumers more information about the service, an explanatory video, and a form to book an appointment with us.

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

All our pharmacists have completed PharmaDoctor’s e-training for the service, plus we already do point of care testing so are experienced in that.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

Our service is so much more than simply selling a box off the shelf. Of course consumers can order these kinds of tests themselves to do at home, but if you want the Rolls Royce professional level of care and advice then that’s what you get in pharmacy.

When customers come for their first consultation we talk about the reasons they wish to have a test, how it works, and then get their consent to carry it out. It’s a pinprick blood test, and of course during covid we have done it with full PPE and stuck to all the necessary covid-secure guidelines.

We then send their sample to the testing lab, and a few weeks later we get the results from PharmaDoctor’s portal. At that point we call the patient back in to go through the results with them and offer whatever advice, signposting and further care might be necessary. The test covers 295 allergens: 154 different foods, 59 pollen, 25 pet, 10 insects and stings, 19 dust mites, and 13 mould and yeast, so in some cases this will simply be lifestyle or self-care advice, or if there are opportunities for treatment options we discuss those (some of which are other PharmaDoctor PGDs), or we’ll refer them to their GP to take things further.

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

Follow-on advice could be, for example, antihistamines, OTC products, or other prescription-only elements we can give them via the PGD for grass allergies. Food allergies would be a referral back to GP in the first instance for follow-on. Mould allergy is harder to address, but we try to find out how they clean their house, talk about any signs of damp, and give practical advice where we can.

How have patients responded to the service?

The promotions we have done have been successful at driving footfall, and customers tell us they love the service. We’ve had teenagers, their parents, couples – a husband and wife in their 50s who we tested were delighted to work out what was causing their allergies and get a solution, and subsequently booked into some of our other services.

The reality of the test is that it tells people what is causing their allergy and gives them the chance to look at what they can change. Customers like the reassurance that they can come into the pharmacy setting to get these tests done in the right way, and when they get their results a trained health care professional can support them with what to do and where to go next.

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

Across the group we are doing around 25-30 a month.

How much do you charge for the service?

The initial consultation and blood test takes 30 minutes, and the follow-on appointment can take an hour. We charge £249 which includes the test and the follow up.

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

Figures not available.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

If you want to improve your revenue through adding services then yes, absolutely, but partner with someone like PharmaDoctor who will give you the support and training to do these successfully. Start slow, start low, and offer a couple of services. Some may work and some not, but you need to commit to make it work.