Pharmacy 3.0: are we ready for disruption?

tiny health professionals among large pills

Like other industries, pharmacy is set to be disrupted: but are pharmacists ready to adapt? writes Sabrine Elkhodr

Mindlessly browsing through my Facebook feed recently, I came across an image that stopped me dead in my tracks.

Sitting awkwardly amidst a sea of cat videos and “Be like Jack” memes was a (presumably Photoshopped) image of a vitamin vending machine emblazoned with Chemist Warehouse branding.

Posted in one of Australia’s most popular online pharmacist groups, the discussion which ensued was decidedly unipolar—this latest assault on the pharmacy profession would further devalue the role of the pharmacist in healthcare delivery and put patients at risk.

Hiding beneath a sea of enraged commentary however, one remark stood out.

It’s disruptive technology; it’s where their brand strategy is heading. Selling a product will always head down this cycle but selling quality services is different.

In two short sentences, this pharmacist perfectly articulates an axiomatic truth that our profession intrinsically understands but occasionally struggles to externalise—selling healthcare products and delivering healthcare aren’t the same thing.

The modern-day retail pharmacy model represents a turbulent hybridisation of the two and while it’s worked for us in the past, we need to come up with a better model if we want to survive.

Apothecaries may have served a necessary function in the past but contemporary pharmacies are an anachronism.

Before the rise of discounting, our roles as medicine experts and retailers aligned far more comfortably than they do now.

There are of course exceptions—Australia is littered with examples of community pharmacies providing valuable and contextualised professional services to their communities beyond just the products they sell. But these aren’t as widespread as we might like them to be.

The discounting model is an inevitable release of the tension that exists at the interface between health and retail; we may not like it but now that it’s happened, we have no choice but to reconfigure those boundaries and come up with something new.

With up to 40% of jobs at risk of being replaced by machines in the next ten years (including pharmacists), the imperative to innovative the pharmacy profession is more pressing than ever.

Rather than fighting change out of fear of what it could mean for the profession and indeed the pharmacies we currently own, our energies would be better spent donning our collective thinking caps and reimagining pharmacy as we know it in order to thrive and continue to function as significant members of the primary healthcare team.

We like to talk about pharmacy innovation but true innovation demands unfettered exploration of viable alternatives.

To do this, we need to remove the shackles of outdated thinking and be open to all possibilities, no matter how frightening they may seem.

For the entrepreneurs and innovators amongst us, the potential to create new pharmacy frameworks and models is thrilling. Technology is the quintessential enabler of innovation and while digital leaps have been made in the industry, we need to be doing much more in this space to keep up with the rapid pace of change in the health startups sector.

I am not suggesting that pharmacists be divorced from their place in the medication supply chain but we do need to recalibrate our function within that chain.

Implementing pharmacy services is a fantastic start. The possibilities are endless and particularly exciting in this age of patient-centred healthcare driven by digital transformation.

Pharmacists have always been early adopters of technology and innovation. Now isn’t the time to stop that.

Change isn’t bad; it’s just different. It creates opportunities for renewal and reinvigoration.

The sooner we embrace that, the sooner we can start building Pharmacy 3.0, whatever that may be.


Sabrine Elkhodr is a community pharmacist and founder of PharmHack, the world’s first pharmacy hackathon.

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  1. Nicholas Logan

    Superb article Sabrine.

  2. Owen Mellon

    Excellent article. Strikes all the right notes.

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