Demand for alternative ways of receiving medication such as drive through, home delivery and car park collection is sparking massive changes across the industry
Since the COVID-19 storm hit Australian shores early this year, many changes have occurred across all aspects of our lives, with frontline community workers such as pharmacists seeing the shift firsthand.
One of the many ways pharmacies have had to adapt is by providing alternative ways for people to pick up their medications.
Sydney community pharmacist and proprietor Caroline Diamantis said her pharmacy has ramped up its home delivery service to support customers the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We have daily free delivery but that’s not new, we’ve always done that,” she said.
“However we’ve seen a lot of uptake. It was there for people who were vulnerable or immobile, but we’ve expanded it now and people are taking it up because they’re self isolating,” said Ms Diamantis.
“They’re making the choice to self-service, we don’t do it as an online platform like click and collect but they pay over the phone and organise scripts by distance. We have people ringing up asking us to prepare an order and saying, for example, that they’re going to send a neighbour down to pick up the medicines.
“So there’s lots of ways that people are still shopping and accessing medication and other pharmacy items without coming into the store,” she said.
Meanwhile Discount Drug Stores (DDS), which operates 131 pharmacies across Australia, says some of its stores have now commenced offering ‘drive-through’ and car park collection services.
Customers can call their local participating pharmacy and place an order for pick-up, then either wait in their car to collect their medication or go through the drive-through, if available at their local pharmacy.
While the brand has been offering home delivery for a number of years, it has expanded its services in recent months to manage the COVID-19 demand.
DDS, part of the Sigma retail pharmacy network, recently teamed up with Drive Yello to launch their home delivery service, which allows customers to order, pay and request delivery of their medication through the MedAdvisor app.
The oldest requester of home delivery via the app so far has been 97 years old.—MedAdvisor
“Over 90% of our network is providing home delivery services to Australian’s across the nation,” Patrick Stoll, Head of Discount Drug Stores, tells AJP.
“A number of our pharmacies are now starting to introduce car park and drive-through services to offer alternative and convenient methods of receiving medication.
“The recent pandemic has forced many businesses to reconsider the way they operate and has certainly highlighted a range of opportunities in terms of taking a more ‘modern’ approach, particularly when it comes to meeting customer needs,” said Mr Stoll.
“Due to isolation restrictions, customers have made it clear they need alternative ways to engage with their pharmacy and to receive their medication. This is especially true for our most vulnerable customers; for example the elderly and those managing acute medical issues.
“DDS’ home delivery and drive-through services are proven, efficient and convenient ways in which we can provide our customers with the medication they need whilst adhering to social distancing restrictions. It has been an excellent way for us to meet consumer demand in what are clearly challenging circumstances.”
Mr Stoll says that the pandemic will “absolutely” change the way pharmacies operate and provide services to customers on an ongoing basis.
“We have set up solid systems that can grow, develop and expand into the future as far as on-demand delivery is concerned, and we will continue to develop these areas as long as there is a demand,” he says.
The recent pandemic has forced many businesses to reconsider the way they operate.—Patrick Stoll, Head of Discount Drug Stores
The rise in demand is consistent.
Since medication management platform MedAdvisor launched delivery services last month, more than 4,000 delivery requests have been made by patients across 1,000 pharmacies, with over 11,000 items ordered, says the company.
According to data on the age spread of pharmacy patients requesting delivery, the highest demand is coming from the 72-year-olds followed by 44-year-olds – while the oldest requester of home delivery via the app so far has been 97 years old.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has radically accelerated the shift to digital health, advancing a cultural change that may have taken five years or more in regular market conditions,” MedAdvisor CEO Robert Read told AJP.
“It has sped up a change in how pharmacies operate which has been years in the making, and it’s something that is going to be very hard to unpick when we emerge from COVID-19.”
Mr Read said patients now expect to be able to access essential services online, and this includes online ordering of medications, contactless payment and home delivery.
“Pay in advance, a method of contactless payment for our customers, has grown from about 11% of the MedAdvisor pharmacy network to approximately 80%.”
The company has also seen an influx of new users of its medication management app.
“We experienced an uptick in users over the crisis, adding approximately 200,000 patients in the March quarter to bring its total connected patients to 1.5 million Australians,” said Mr Read.
“For context, it took MedAdvisor about six years to reach one million digitally connected patients, and just two years to add another 500,000.”
Meanwhile community pharmacies continue to adapt to the changes, with some predicting social distancing and other restrictions may be lasting until the summer.
Ms Diamantis says her community pharmacy, like many others, is just doing the best it can to provide every resource available while allowing people to have minimal contact.
“We’ve had to adapt, but it’s made us feel good that we’re still able to provide patients with what they need,” she says.