Pharmacies play a pivotal role in supporting parents in dealing with their child’s ailments. A well-stocked category plus the right advice is imperative

Pharmacists and their staff are in a unique position where they can offer tailored advice, reassurance and the level of service that big retailers can’t. The child health category is a key area of the pharmacy that can benefit from this type of specialised offering.

Nicole Hooley, merchandise and retail operations manager at Instigo says for pharmacy to capitalise on this opportunity, at least one pharmacist needs to be front of store. She says, “If there’s an approachable pharmacist on the floor, the customer will trust the ‘white coat’ recommendation.

“This approach really differentiates smaller pharmacies from the big, price driven banners where the pharmacist never leaves the dispensary. Using social media is a wonderful platform to promote the expertise of the pharmacist. Follow nearby infant and toddler playgroups on Facebook or reach out to local mothers groups to become that trusted advisor.

“Most pharmacies stock a very similar core range of children’s health products and any additional space dedicated to the category will result in extra facings, rather than an extended range.  The opportunity to expand the breadth of range could come from natural options for common conditions, such as colds and allergies, which are becoming increasingly popular with mothers. Also unique offers, such as bamboo clothing for sensitive skin, are doing quite well.

“Natural-based treatments and supplements offer cross merchandising opportunity as parents may not be aware of the options outside of the realm of traditional medicine. Including such options in the children’s health section of the pharmacy as well as the natural health department can encourage great uptake,” says Hooley.

She adds, “Parents are looking for solutions to help their child, we call this an ‘emotional purchase’. When selecting or buying products for their child, choice is usually based on a recommendation from another parent who has used the product before, or from a professional with knowledge that they trust.  Hence the key features and benefits of products should always form part of any conversation or transaction.”

Category focus: quick wins

Eye level is buy level

Parents shopping with a child in tow will often buy the first thing they see. Place products with the greatest market share at eye level, as these are often recognised brands that parents trust.

Maintain your core

Refreshing products regularly can keep stock looking new but Hooley advises against changing things too often in the core areas of the child health category (such as pain and nappy rash) as this can frustrate parents, especially if they’re in a hurry.

Focus on seasonal ailments

Plan for cold and flu, plus allergy season but also look for opportunistic ranges and trends. “Ask local baby health care clinics what they are recommending to ensure you are the local stockist. If you’re a late night trader, have nappies and formula available,” Hooley recommends.

Upfront advice

“Information is key in the child health category. Ensure you have information on fever, nappy rash, teething and immunity at hand. Also ensure staff are knowledgeable in these prime areas.”

Product power

Making sure all staff know the unique selling points of products is paramount. Hooley says, “Training is vital. Giving retail staff a basic knowledge of core child health conditions will help them gain confidence with customers.”

To further grow your child health category Hooley advises, “Contact other local professionals, such as physiotherapists, speech pathologists, child health nurses and local doctors and host an information session.

“Use social media to promote the areas of child health where your pharmacy ‘wins’. Join mothers groups on Facebook and be ‘the pharmacist for advice’. This will most certainly drum up new business.”

In practice

Pharmacist Taryn Boyatzis from Emslie’s Floreat Pharmacy in Perth says, “All areas of child health have grown for our pharmacy. This is mainly because of the demographic of the area; we have seen a lot of parents moving into the surrounding suburbs.

“New mums, in particular, have lots of questions about their child’s health so having somewhere to go where those questions can be easily answered is important and a vital role that the pharmacy can play.

“As a pharmacy we are very focused on spending time with the patients who come in and giving them advice and this certainly resonates well with parents of young children. We always have two pharmacists on the floor so if one is busy, the other pharmacist is available to provide advice. This enables us to give that extra service.

“The child health category is very broad, so there isn’t really one prevalent health concern but we do sell a lot of pain, cold and flu medicine.

Many cold and flu treatments are restricted now for younger children, but I believe that natural medicines can help build their immune systems and can support children through a cold or flu.

“Probiotics are good for the immune system. We find kids that take immune boosting probiotics every day don’t get as sick as kids that don’t. If parents come in seeking advice in this area we can talk to them about controlling the symptoms, but also about what they can do in the future to help prevent illness.”

Boyatzis says there are two kinds of models in pharmacy – discount or advice. “If you’re the latter you need to ensure you’re giving out good advice. At every staff meeting we reinforce this. Our brand motto is ‘individual care,’ so when a patient comes into store we really focus on trying to give them that extra knowledge.

“Being a compounding pharmacy also plays a big role in the child health category. We flavour medication for kids and if they’re intolerant we can reformulate the whole medication and take out that specific ingredient. If something is not available as a proprietary product we can make it. For example, we make omeprazole suspension and melatonin suspension. This is a massive part of our business; we get a lot of parents coming in for this and seeing the rest of our services and continuing to use us.”

Child dosing

“It’s imperative that pharmacists make sure parents know how to use the medications they are prescribed for their children. It’s also important that parents know how they can combine medicines. Parents are often uncertain; they don’t know what medications they can and cannot use in conjunction,” says Boyatzis.

According to Dr Norman Swan, there are some key dosing rules that parents can be reminded of:

  • Children are not ‘little adults’ they can respond differently to medication and be more sensitive, particularly to overdose
  • Don’t give children a child any more paracetamol than it says on the pack for their age and weight
  • Don’t give paracetamol for more than 48 hours continuously
  • If a child is very overweight or underweight, confirm dose with GP
  • Check you’re not doubling up on dose if taking cough & cold medication
  • Don’t give children aspirin; it has been linked to Reye’s syndrome

Dr Swan says, “Most cases of overdose are the accumulative result of several days of paracetamol where the recommended dose has been exceeded. It’s important to get the right dose and timing from the get go.”

According to NPS Medicinewise, knowledge gaps with regard to paracetamol use in children include:

  • The perception that paracetamol is a ‘safe’ medicine
  • Uncertainty around appropriate indications
  • A lack of awareness of strengths of formulations
  • The methods used to measure the correct dose

If recommending paracetamol for pain relief in children and infants under 12 years of age, it’s import to remind parents or carers:

  • To always read the label and packaging before use
  • To weight the child if they don’t know their accurate weight
  • Not to exceed the recommended dose and to keep a written note if needed
  • To measure liquid medicines accurately using the device (syringe, spoon or cup) provided
  • To store the medicine out of the reach of the child

NPS MedicineWise spokesperson and pharmacist Sarah Spagnardi advises, “Pharmacists can encourage parents and carers to keep a written record of the medicines given to a child. This can help to prevent dosing errors, particularly when more than one person cares for the children. Everyone, including family members, child care staff or baby sitters should be given clear written instructions about when and how to give a medicine to the child.

“Parents and carers can also be encouraged to keep a medicines list: a list of all the medicines they or someone they care for takes, including prescribed and over the counter medicines, and to share this with their health care team. The NPS MedicineWise Medicines List can be downloaded or paper copies ordered from our website, it can be filled in as an eList online, and there is also a free MedicineList+ smartphone app that has the additional benefits of reminders and links to useful medicines information. 

“Pharmacists can check if children are taking any over-the-counter, prescription or complementary medicines and check for potential drug interactions before recommending or dispensing medicines.

“If a child is using an inhaler pharmacists are in an ideal position to regularly check inhaler technique and recommend a spacer, if required.

“Safe storage of medicines is also important. Pharmacists can remind parents and carers to store medicines out of sight and reach of children and return expired or unused medicines to the pharmacy for safe disposal.”

Spagnardi adds that the language used when communicating with children can play a role in ensuring medicines are taken appropriately. She says, “It’s important to be honest with children and give them age-appropriate information about the medicine they are taking. You can explain to the child that the medicine may help them to feel better or help their condition.

Using correct terms is important, especially considering that many children’s medicines now come in various flavours. Using words like ‘lolly water’ or ‘juice’ to describe a medicine is not helpful as this does not get across the message that it is indeed a medicine that needs to be taken with care.”

Lifestyle advice

Boyatzis says that another key area of child health where pharmacy can play a part is in offering advice and guidance on diet and exercise. “I think counseling on diet and exercise is the future of pharmacy — both for children and adults.

“There is always time to have stuff that’s not good for you, but there’s too much of it in society. Our kids are exposed to too much sugar. Kids don’t get enough fruits, vegetables and healthy fats while processed foods are far too abundant in our diets.”

 “There are lots of different ways you can encourage people to talk to their pharmacist about this issue; it’s a massive roll for pharmacy. I definitely think this will be a big part of what our pharmacy offers in the future,” says Boyatzis.