Why you can’t ignore your retail reality


four unfriendly-looking pharmacists

How often do you think about how your patients experience your pharmacy? asks Sabrine Elkhodr

On a sunny morning last September, my family and I were packing into the car for a short road trip to Canberra, when my toddler tripped and lacerated her upper cheek.

Lots of blood, tears and Peppa Pig reruns later, we found ourselves anxiously waiting in the local emergency waiting room with no clue as to when we would be seen or whether there was going to be long-term damage as a result of her fall.

Anyone who’s been unlucky enough to visit a hospital emergency room would know that long, agonising wait times are to be expected. However, the hours-long wait combined with the anxiety of being ill, the sterility of the four walls around you and the complete lack of communication from hospital staff throughout the waiting period makes for a very, very uncomfortable experience (in their defence, hospital staff are usually understaffed, underpaid and run off their feet—kinda like pharmacists!).

The long waiting times are unavoidable, of course, and a standard feature of a heaving public health system. As an insufferable dreamer, however, I couldn’t help but reimagine the typical emergency room journey with a few minor embellishments that would make the whole process just that little bit more tolerable.

This got me thinking about pharmacy. Do we ever stop to really think about the typical patient journey in our own pharmacies? Do we even care?

Consider this: patient walks in, hands you a script, waits around for 10-15 minutes, is handed a box (and with any luck, counselled) and then sent on their merry way.

What are they actually getting for the 30 minutes they’re taking out of their lives to pick up a box of pills they probably don’t want to take anyway?

A pretty paper bag with your logo emblazoned on the front? A loyalty stamp? What are you offering them that they can’t get at the pharmacy across the road or the online pharmacy on the first page of Google (aside from stellar counselling which we should all be doing anyway)?

The truth is, waiting at the pharmacy sucks. No-one likes doing it and while our older patients are currently the bread and butter of the pharmacy bottom line, it’s only a matter of time before digital natives (aka millenials) take their place—and you can rest assured that the Snapchat generation will expect a far better pharmacy experience than their parents did.

We may be health professionals first and foremost, but that doesn’t mean we can’t also make the pharmacy experience a pleasant one. So how do we redesign the pharmacy experience to not only be less irksome but to supersede the benefits of just logging onto an online pharmacy and getting your drugs in the mail?

We co-design. We listen to our patients, ask them what they want and build an experience that they want, need and would be willing to wait 30 minutes for.

The particulars of this experience are dynamic and will vary between pharmacies, but the basic premise stays the same: give your patients what they want and need and they’ll keep coming back.

The beauty of the tech-driven age is that there is literally no limit to the options available to solve your patient’s problems and keep them coming back to you.

Do your patients value time and convenience? Consider charging a premium for monthly home deliveries. Hook up with a patient interfacing service like MedAdvisor, eRx Express or HealthNotes and give them the option to dispense ahead.

Build an app that instantly connects your patients straight to one of your pharmacists (not sure how to build an app? Come along to PharmHack and learn!).

Run a one-minute health clinic for your patients while they wait. Do your patients like to be pampered (let’s face it, who doesn’t)? Offer a free hot chocolate machine or three-minute massages while people hang around the dispensary waiting to be called (yes, some pharmacies actually do this).

Be creative, and don’t be afraid to actually ask your patients what would make for a more pleasant pharmacy experience.

These little touches may seem frivolous given that we’re in the business of life and death, but ignoring the very simple reality that we are also retailers will eventually mean the end of your pharmacy.

Friendly, knowledgeable pharmacists, affordable prices and basic services like blood pressure checks are expected of all pharmacies nowadays—what do you offer that sets you apart from everyone else?

Corporates spend tens of millions of dollars on optimising user experience and various industry studies have shown that every dollar spent on creating positive consumer experiences brings in between $2-$100 in return. How much have you spent on making your pharmacy a place that patients actually want to visit?

At the end of the day, there are dozens of pharmacies in your local area that are just as knowledgeable, friendly and affordable as you. Your job is to focus on the missing piece of the pharmacy puzzle: optimising the patient experience.

Sabrine Elkhodr is a community pharmacist and Director of HealthClick, a digital pharmacy and innovation consultancy based in Sydney. She founded PharmHack, the world’s first pharmacy hackathon, and works with community pharmacies to develop effective innovation strategies.

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