2020 is already being described as a defining moment for the pharmacy sector.
Across the globe, pharmacies and pharmacists have provided frontline support to millions of customers and patients throughout COVID-19.
The sector - already in the midst of its own challenges - had all the complications of a global pandemic heaped on top of it during 2020. It forced pharmacies to absorb huge amounts of additional pressure due to the strain put on healthcare services.
Alongside providing essential frontline support to their local communities, pharmacies also had to cope with sourcing PPE, creating safe environments for their customers and staff, and dealing with complex logistics while, at the same time, still trying to run productive and profitable businesses.
So, what have we learnt about pharmacy in 2020? As part of Quinyx’s Pharmacy Week, we brought together leading industry experts Adedayo Titiloye (Pharmacy Support Manager at Well Pharmacy), Leonora O'Brien (CEO & Founder at Pharmapod), and Sue Hedaux (Co-Founder of ReThink Productivity), to reflect on an unforgettable year and share their learnings with us in a pharmacy expert panel.
According to our experts, here are the four trends that have dominated the pharmacy sector in 2020:
1. Recognising the importance of pharmacy staff
With GPs closed and many people reluctant to venture to a doctor’s surgery during the height of the pandemic, pharmacists have been the frontline support for millions of people. Simply because they were the most accessible healthcare available.
Leonora O'Brien explains: “When I look back, one of the overall dominating trends was the consistent resilience and professionalism of pharmacists and pharmacies stepping up to meet the needs of their communities during this health crisis. We’re one of the oldest and most trusted professions in the world, and our response to the pandemic has shown why this is.
“When the going gets tough, pharmacists step up and deliver. We’ve always known pharmacists are critical frontline workers and, while before they may have been left out of the narrative of what a key worker is, the pandemic has changed that. They provide a robust and efficient medical supply chain for our communities, especially the most vulnerable members of society and this should be reflected in government support, policies, and funding.”
The strain put on pharmacy staff was huge. Not only did they have to continue providing an essential service but they also had to cope with COVID-19 striking close to home.
Adedayo Titiloye adds: “It’s been a concerning and anxious time, especially for colleagues on the frontline. Mental health became a big priority so we published fact sheets for around 15 weeks that covered areas such as wellbeing, sleep guidance, eating well, and managing worry alongside encouraging all of our colleagues to talk about their mental health and wellbeing.”
2. Productivity & operational challenges
The challenges the pharmacy sector has faced in 2020 have added to an ongoing productivity crisis they’ve been tackling for a number of years.
Sue Hedaux says: “It’s never mattered more to think about costs, and how that impacts on your profit. This then helps you understand what you can do to manage the workload more effectively and how things like automation and improving efficiency can benefit the business.”
The key, she says, is to make sure the right people are in the right place at the right time. Not only does this eliminate wasted capacity and reduce costs, it means pharmacy staff are able to spend more time with patients, which can drive sales and revenue.
The pandemic also saw pharmacy teams being split into two to ensure business continuity if someone became ill or had to self-isolate.
As Adedayo Titiloye says: “We had a revolving door of isolation in the business and our previous systems weren’t designed to cope with this. We needed to know how many staff had tested positive, who was isolating, and who had been contacted by test and trace. By getting a handle on the data, we were able to make the right decisions at the right times.”
3. Accelerated digitalisation
“This has been a watershed moment for healthcare,” says Leonora O'Brien. “The move to digital has been hugely significant. We’ve had the technology in place to be able to issue digital scripts for a number of years but it wasn’t being used. The pandemic has forced the industry to adopt digital technology.”
This digitisation of healthcare has seen the use of everything from video consultations through to pharmacies using software solutions to better manage their processes and operations - whether that’s workforce planning or demand forecasting.
4. A united industry
All our panellists were unanimous in their praise of how the industry has supported itself throughout 2020.
Adedayo Titiloye summed it up perfectly: “My highlight from 2020, without question, has been how the sector came together to support each other and provide a lifeline to the most vulnerable in our communities. On a daily basis, our staff were uncertain of what they would face, but they were determined to support our customers and patients.”
Without doubt, the role of pharmacies and pharmacists has fundamentally shifted in 2020 with the sector now receiving long overdue praise for the essential work it does.
Interested in learning more? You can watch the webinar in full through the link below.