Community pharmacy – here to stay

Forefront

Date: 11 July 2018

The decision by Chemist Warehouse to switch wholesalers and the purchase of PillPack by Amazon in the US seem to have woken the community pharmacy doom-and-gloom merchants from their slumber.

However, before we all start slitting our collective throats, let’s remember we’ve seen this movie before - the demise of pharmacy is gleefully predicted but never eventuates.

We’re told that the corporates are going to take over, but big business is more on the nose today than any time in living memory so what politician in their right mind is going to hand over the ownership of pharmacy to the big corporates?

We’re told pharmacy is going to be deregulated, enabling anyone to set up anywhere, but earlier this year the location rules were locked in by legislation that was supported by all the main political parties.

Amazon is coming to Australia so suddenly everyone will be getting their scripts online and having them delivered to their door, but no online provider can compete with the convenience of community pharmacy while the Federal Government sets the patient co-payment for PBS subsidised medicines.

Machines and artificial intelligence, we are told, will take over pharmacy rendering obsolete the clinical role of pharmacists, but no machine - no matter how smart - can go close to replicating the human touch that is the hallmark of community pharmacy.

The news for the naysayers is that community pharmacy continues to have the overwhelming support of the public and is not going anywhere.

Of course, a successful future must always be earned and it won’t be handed to pharmacy on a platter.

But for those pharmacies that embrace technology; know their patients and are passionate about meeting their health needs; are excellent in all aspects of running their businesses; and can integrate effectively with the broader health system collaborating with their fellow health professionals, there is every reason to believe they will continue to be prosperous for many years to come.

That is the clear conclusion of the CP2025 strategic issues report, which has identified nine growth pathways for community pharmacy after conducting arguably the most comprehensive analysis of the trends and drivers of the future of the sector in living memory.

Far from being at death’s door, there are very good reasons to be optimistic about the future of community pharmacy.

The ageing population, an unprecedented reliance on increasingly complex medicines, the drive towards integrated health care, the fiscal need to reduce hospital admissions, and the increased consumer focus on convenience, wellness and being connected to communities of trust, all point firmly in the direction of an enhanced role for community pharmacies in the health system.  

In today’s world, change is constant and no one is immune. Those who complacently delude themselves that they can never be disrupted usually don’t survive to tell the tale.

Community pharmacies must be proactive in understanding and preparing for the future, willing to adapt to changing consumer preferences and needs, but at all times remembering that their uniquely trusted relationship with their patients will always be their core competitive advantage.

The usual suspects will, of course, continue to take every opportunity to advocate for the dismantling of community pharmacy, because in their minds a business model that does not neatly fit with their narrow economic view of how the world should work, is, by definition, both bad and ultimately destined to fail.

But as long as community pharmacy business owners and pharmacists as a profession genuinely and optimistically embrace change, using it as an opportunity to better meet the health needs of their patients, then they can be assured that an exciting future lies ahead.

P.S.  Last week I attended a breakfast focused on the digital disruption of retail businesses. During the panel session, I asked how a small, independent community pharmacy can hope to compete with the world’s largest technology companies. Launa Inman, who is one of Australia’s most respected and successful retail leaders, referred to the time she was going overseas with her husband. They realised the night before they were leaving they did not have the medicines they needed for the trip. She rang their community pharmacist whose mobile number they had because he would sometimes ring to remind them to fill their repeats.  Their pharmacist undertook to get their scripts prepared and opened up the pharmacy early so they could pick them up on the way to the airport. In Launa’s words, he is now their pharmacist for life and it is that commitment to having a personal relationship with their customers that will enable community pharmacy to successfully compete with the Amazons of this world.

Contact: Pharmacy Guild of Australia
Phone: 6270 1888

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Page last updated 30 August 2018