Exclusive: All community pharmacies should consider technological advancements such as apps to ensure their business success in the future, a pharmacy market expert has said. 

As online pharmacies continue to grow in popularity, community pharmacies must think of new ‘innovative ways to survive and keep patients with them,’ head of pharmacy at Christie & Co, Tony Evans, told The Pharmacist last week.  

According to a report published by the company earlier this month, online pharmacies in the UK  saw more than a two-fold increase in their dispensing volumes in 2021 compared with pre-pandemic, as more people were confined indoors.  

‘Pharmacies must consider how they can improve that patient journey,’ Mr Evans suggested ‘to ensure ‘stickiness’ and so people don’t leave for an online alternative.  

‘One-way pharmacies can do this is by launching an app,  which would help with delivery and alerts for when prescriptions are available.’  

It comes after a review that found that digital transformation across the NHS should now be accelerated following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

‘Bricks and clicks’

Some in the sector, including Rowlands’s owner Phoenix Health and LloydsPharmacy, have already created apps to help pharmacies compete with online competitors and to drive footfall.

Phoenix UK acquired digital prescription service Co-op Health in March 2021, and rebranded to Hey Pharmacist in July.  

A Phoenix UK spokesperson told The Pharmacist in December: ‘The launch of Hey Pharmacist was a success and we have ambitious plans to grow our share of the market in 2022.’ 

LloydsPharmacy’s online arm LloydsDirect meanwhile has been nominated by 500,000 people for their repeat prescriptions since the multiple acquired the online pharmacy – previously named Echo – in 2019.  

Other pharmacies have also invested in online services recently, such as Well Pharmacy’s click and collect service which launched in June 2021, and Boots’ partnership with Deliveroo in August last year.  

These hybrid models, which embrace both the in-person pharmacy and elements of the online pharmacy, Mr Evans referred to as ‘bricks and cllicks’. 

‘Bricks and clicks’ pharmacies offer online convenience while also offering the same services and value that only traditional pharmacies can deliver, Mr Evans explained.  

‘As long as community pharmacies look forward, embrace technology and capture more services,  they should prosper,’ he added.  

In 2017 leaders in the pharmacy sector teamed together to launch the Community Pharmacy IT Group (CPITG). The group hopes to collectively encourage the sector to get more engaged with the many upcoming digital changes.

Pharmacy’s future looking positive 

According to Christie and Co’s annual business outlook report, pharmacy’s future has been looking positive, with pharmacy sales in the UK at the highest levels on record and with no signs of slowing down, Mr Evans said.  

‘Pharmacy’s profile generally has been buoyed by how it supported the pandemic; I think people have recognised that it was the only primary care sector that has kept its doors open during the lockdowns’.   

‘As part of its new profile, there has been a lot more interest and investment in the sector, as people see that it has a good future,’

Mr Evans predicted this interest in the pharmacy marketplace to continue ‘long after the pandemic’. 

‘All the pandemic has done is reawaken interest in the pharmacy marketplace and the fact pharmacy does provide an important primary care - and long may that continue,’ he said.