As we heard during our discussion on the state of pharmacy in 2020, this has been a defining moment for the industry.
During the height of COVID-19 and throughout the first lockdown, pharmacies were one of the only healthcare services still open and accessible to the public. They played an essential role in helping their local communities deal with the pandemic and this vital service pharmacies provide is now receiving the international recognition it deserves.
So what does the future hold for pharmacy? How will the watershed moment of 2020 shape the future of the sector and what can we expect to see?
To get a glimpse into the future, we enlisted the help of Janson Woodall (Innovation Programme Manager at Well Pharmacy), Leonora O'Brien (CEO & Founder at Pharmapod), and Sue Hedaux (Co-Founder of ReThink Productivity) to share their insight and expertise with us.
Here are the four key trends they expect to shape the future of pharmacy:
1. Digitalisation, automation, AI and machine learning
Pharmacy has been slowly changing for a number of years and the events of 2020 have been the catalyst accelerating this change.
“We’re quickly moving away from the traditional pharmacy model that’s based on the volume of prescriptions dispensed, and now moving towards a more clinical service based model or a hybrid of the two,” says Leonora O'Brien.
This has been coupled with the UK government setting out a clear agenda to integrate pharmacy into wider healthcare in order to reduce pressure on GP surgeries and hospitals. However, in order to do this, pharmacies need to free up time and reduce labour intensive processes so they can spend more time with patients coming through their doors.
Leonora O'Brien adds: “Recently there was a highly detailed study carried out in the US that showed 47% of the pharmacist’s role is automatable, 23% of the doctor’s role is automatable, and as high as 70% of the pharmacist technician’s role is automatable.
“We can expect there to be disruption but, instead of being fearful, I believe we need to embrace this as an opportunity to replace the repetitive, time consuming tasks and free up our professional time for leadership and humanistic care of patients.”
These sentiments were echoed by Janson Woodall: “There needs to be a change of mindset in pharmacies. AI can be scary but it can help us be more efficient, make better decisions, and deliver better outcomes for patients.
“If we automate routine tasks that machine learning can support with, this frees up colleagues to spend time with patients and deliver a much better, well rounded service.”
2. Better use of data
This increased digitalisation and a better use of technology will empower pharmacies to use data in a more effective way.
Sue Hedaux says: “Data lets you make more effective decisions that are based on robust evidence and drive productivity. By measuring what happens in the pharmacy, we’re able to understand workloads and create insights about opportunities that exist to improve efficiency.”
This better use of data isn’t limited to the pharmacies themselves. As more pharmacies transition to using cloud native software, it brings with it the opportunities for smarter ways of working - providing systems are integrated and talk to each other.
“We need a smarter way of working where all systems are integrated with each other,” says Leonora O'Brien. “Through cloud-based tech, we can aggregate data and move away from the traditional siloed approach.
“This can hugely accelerate progress through the profession. By being able to see what’s happening not just within a pharmacy group, but on a national basis, stakeholders will be able to come up with guidance and improvement plans based on objective evidence - something that will be critical in improving incident management.
“You empower the pharmacist with specific tools for them and their environment, but you also have the nice added side effect of being able to share this information nationally to whichever stakeholders need to see that data.”
Janson Woodall adds: “By being able to crunch huge amounts of data we’ll be able to make predictions on the general health of the population and identify pockets around the country where interventions are potentially needed.”
3. More convenience & control for patients
Much like trends we’ve seen in sectors like retail, customers now expect the integration between online pharmacy services and physical stores to be seamless.
As Janson Woodall says: “Patients want to communicate with us in a different way and not always physically in the pharmacy. They expect to be able to order repeat medication online, to get health advice online, and to be able to do things like check the status of their orders. There’s also a growing demand from patients to be able to pick up their prescriptions from lockers or collection points.
“It’s all about convenience, allowing patients to control medication, and giving them choice.”
4. The first port of call for healthcare
With all the extra pressures heaped on the NHS, pharmacies are quickly becoming the first port of call for healthcare services - a trend our experts predict is only going to increase.
“One of the biggest reasons we need to embrace tech and automation is to free up the time of colleagues,” says Janson Woodall. “The more time they can save, the more time they have to spend with patients, and be that first point of contact for them. This will allow us to be the first port of call for patient health and patient needs.”
Our panel was unanimous in agreeing this is where the future of the sector is heading. By empowering pharmacies with better tech and significantly reducing the amount of admin, it can lead to better care provisions for patients and better overall outcomes for the NHS.
If you want to dive deeper into the future of pharmacy, you can hear from our experts first hand and watch the webinar through the link below.