Building the pharmacy of the future? Rob Sztar describes the technology you need to know about
We are fortunate to be living through the 3rd Industrial Revolution, otherwise known as the Digital Revolution or the Information Age, where we’ve witnessed landmark events such as the origin of the internet, mobile phone, and cloud computing, all in the last 30 years! Consider this: The world’s largest taxi firm, Uber, owns no cars. The world’s most popular media company, Facebook, creates no content.
The world’s most valuable retailer, Alibaba, carries no stock. And the world’s largest accommodation provider, Airbnb, owns no property. All made possible by the same technology we have access to today! The world we live in is changing at an exponential pace of change, and I know many of you are simply overwhelmed when thinking about integrating technology into your pharmacy business or believe that the ground swell of technological innovation surrounding us is impenetrable to the current traditional pharmacy model. In this article I’m going to prepare you for the future of technology innovation, by showing you how you can start implementing some of the earliest versions in your pharmacy today.
The patient journey of tomorrow arrives today
Once upon a time, the only ways for a patient to engage with their pharmacist for advice and pharmaceutical products/services was through the telephone and the front-door of their closest community pharmacy. Month after Month they would visit, which gave rise to the close, personal, trusted relationships that we love to nurture and create. This is our biggest strength moving into the future, but its strength will be tested by our ability to support our current and future patients in developing our presence in pure digital environments like Virtual Reality and environments where digital meets the physical in Augmented Reality (e.g Pokemon Go).
One example is through engaging with connected devices such as the SIMband. This evolutionary device includes six types of biological sensors which can continuously monitor your body and its vital signs to support preventative medicine and predict health events before our patients experience them. This real-time information will be added to our decision support systems powered by artificial intelligence such as IBM Watson, who in 2016 is already beginning to assist doctors in the Mayo Clinic (USA) and pharmacists at CVS Pharmacy (USA).
The patient journey will forever cross both digital and physical boundaries (often simultaneously), and as their trusted primary healthcare advisor we will gain continued relevance by our ability to support them anywhere and anytime. The key take-away from this is that this is an evolutionary journey which will progress at the speed of our patients aspirations and the adoption of technology in our healthcare system. To ready ourselves and take advantage of current opportunities in these areas, ensure that you:
- Create and maintain a strong digital pharmacy presence (Website & Social Media)
- Understand, Educate your patients on standalone (BSL/BP Monitors) and early connected health devices (FitBit, Apple Watch). Assist them in isolating and following data trends
- Setup digital access to readily accessible clinical database and reference materials (Cloud-Versions of Clinical References setup as default browser tabs on each pharmacist workstation)
Use smart tools to redefine your workflow and manage your business
Over our community pharmacy journeys, we’ve seen the level of profit from the timely supply of medicines slowly dwindling, leaving less margin for the cross-subsidisation of essential (but free) pharmaceutical services. Yet despite this, our supply workflows and management of key business metrics largely remain in the same reactive and inefficient state. The pharmacy of the future will innovate to remove unnecessary time and money from the supply chain through predictive supply of pre-packaged medicines, on-demand medicine personalisation which will include: 3D printing of medicines in pharmacies, and delivery of adaptive medicine devices that respond to individual treatment goals.
Globally, we’re already seeing large fulfillment businesses like Amazon (US) obtain patents for ‘anticipatory shipping’ in the re-supply of products to customers before they’ve decided to place an order, and closer to home, Lloydspharmacy (UK) controversially begun operating an automated distribution centre challenging the existing pharmacy dispensary model through a ‘hub and spoke’ setup. Essentially, this is an advanced method for decoupling product logistics from our clinical interactions with patients, leaving greater scope for further strengthening and developing our role in professional services delivery.
Fortunately, we have access to patient engagement and smart data analytical software that allows us to begin this transition at a fraction of the complexity and cost:
- The available tools (e.g MedAdvisor, Healthnotes, MemoCare, and eRx Express) provide our patients with the ability to pre-order medicines in response to personalised reminders delivered in a way that suits them (email, SMS, landline, or push notification).
- Utilise predictive tools such as ‘Script Tracker’ (provided by Healthnotes) to forecast our patients medication requirements assisting us in ordering/managing our inventory as well as proactively support patients who may have slipped through the cracks and may be struggling with completing their treatment.
The workforce of the future
With an in-depth report recently released from Oxford University, on the future of employment predicting that 35 per cent of jobs are at risk of automation in the next 20 years, we need to take a moment to consider the roles required in our pharmacies of the future. As we’ve already discussed, our own roles as pharmacists will transform to support the omnichannel (physical & digital) patient through entry into new environments and redefining existing pharmacy business workflows.
Does this mean the end of the road for our teams of administrative, pharmacy and dispensary assistants? No, but only where they possess or can develop soft social and communication skills that are transferable across both physical and digital platforms, and are agile enough to innovate and adopt technology. Digital pharmacy environments of the future will include ‘chatbots’ that intelligently communicate with our patients through artificial intelligence, but in synchronous existence will be the need to communicate and engage with our patients when they visit the pharmacy in-person. Our teams will need to work together with the digital versions of ourselves, much the same way we do right now with:
- ‘Pharmacist Phil’ (from MedAdvisor) and other automated communication methods (SMS and Email) 02now, to deliver a consistent and remarkable level of patient care across all channels.
- Another example for your early consideration is inviting a dispensary robot onto your existing team to automate and assist in the ongoing management of the complex inventory processes and workflows to enable your pharmacists and support team to freely interact with each patient the moment they step foot through your physical or digital front doors.
Now you may be feeling a little uneasy when contemplating your first steps forward from here, and if so, you’re in exactly the right place in preparing to move out of your comfort zone. “You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new” (- Brian Tracy). My personal belief is that there has never been a better time to be a pharmacist and to build the pharmacy of the future in partnership with technology, as it enables closer, more meaningful pharmacist contributions than at anytime in our history.
Robert Sztar is a 2nd generation pharmacist, pharmacy owner, and the founder of Pharmactive. Robert host’s the world’s #1 Pharmacy & Technology Podcast (Transpharmation) which has just celebrated it’s 100th Episode, and is building the ‘Transpharmation Lab’ in Victoria which will serve as a living, breathing pharmacy environment where the worlds of pharmacy and technology collide on a daily basis to help you choose the right technology solutions to help transform your pharmacy business. To learn more about Robert or the world of Transpharmation visit robertsztar.com.