The sector should be looking beyond its traditional dispensing function to make the most of clinical services, says Martin Hao, managing director of Healthera

There is a clear focus on dispensing income within UK pharmacies, but an area often underappreciated by the general public is the provision of clinical services.

Of course, most pharmacies do offer medicine use reviews (MURs) and new medicine services (NMSs). But as the responsibility for providing patient care is pushed further towards pharmacy, could they be securing more business by offering more to the patients who need it?

The service offering

In order to improve patient uptake of clinical pharmacy services, the offering has to be right but identifying this isn’t always easy.

Establishing patient demographics is always a good place to start and a quick look at the habits and needs of patients as a whole help identify which additional services should be offered.

For example, it could be that there are a lot of students in the area, who may benefit from travel clinics or travel vaccinations. Or a majority of middle aged patients, who may benefit more from services like pregnancy testing, weight management, healthy start vitamins for children or hair loss treatments.

Another aspect to consider is the seasonal nature of certain services. Statistics have shown growing uptake of Emergency Hormonal Contraception in fresher’s weeks of many universities and, needless to say, the popularities of travel vaccination and flu vaccination during their respective high times in a year.

Generally, offering more services means more opportunity for delivery. If pharmacies can offer services at the right time and can market them correctly, there will clearly be more uptake.

The opportunity for out of hours

Increasingly, patients are looking for convenience and a great advantage of receiving care through a pharmacy is the opportunity for bookings during the hours when surgeries are closed.

If advertised to patients correctly, appointments in later evenings during weekdays and Saturdays are proven to generate new business for pharmacies as patients often struggle to get advice or any bookings through during these times.

Advertising services to patients

This may seem like obvious advice, but it is key to advertise pharmacy services on the pharmacy’s website and on NHS choices. It is not easy for patients to get information advice about pharmacy services, so it is important to include details about what the service is and what the benefit is to the patient.

My own experience talking to patients about their service needs has made it clear that there is a lack of education in the masses when it comes to service knowledge. People won’t book services they don’t know exist, and won’t feel the need to book them if they don’t understand their benefits.

Also growing in popularity are a number of online portals, platforms and pharmacy apps that can assist in service advertising. Apps like these can help to promote and detail pharmacy services to patients and can even enable patients to book, and enquire about those services.

All of this is important, but the front line also needs to be there, staff need to be well informed about their pharmacies services and be trained to promote the right service to the right patient.

Because only a comprehensive offering, and an all-round promotional effort will put pharmacy services into the prevalent, profitable place they belong.

For a wealth of information on which services can be offered, visit the websites of both the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) and NHS Choices.