From the last business cycle to the current version, pharmacists and community pharmacies have undergone some profound experiences and rapid change.
The transition to now is leaving in its wake a sense of indecision and while many opportunities have arisen to improve pharmacist skills and community pharmacy development, only a small number of talented individuals have emerged with a new sense of direction.
While a few have developed some top retail skills, these are not necessarily satisfying skills and represent skills of survival in a difficult business climate.
Others have stepped out into a clinical experience and have begun building a more “rounded” core business model – and though the steps taken to date have been small, they have built in a sense of direction and confidence – and that has given job satisfaction.
As retailers, those pharmacists choosing survival now have more information about their customers than ever before.
And they are building their business models successfully.
But all retail models will eventually falter in terms of sustainability, because there is always a retailer out there with more resources, financial or intellectual, than you can muster – and they can be highly disruptive.
Such a retailer is Amazon, (yet to dismantle Australian retailers to distraction), through disruption.
The key for successful pharmacy retailing has proven to be able to have a 360 degree input of each customer in a way that generates value and increasing sales volumes.
However, pharmacists are only now beginning to realise that they concurrently deal with two categories of consumers – one we already know as a customer, the other we know, (but do not fully understand), is called the patient.
It is the patient that we need to understand, build in increasing numbers through a professional engagement process that needs to work collaboratively with all health providers creating an input to a patient’s total care and strategically building a practice model that treats patients as patients and creates independent input for a patient that is uniquely pharmacist-oriented.
So we basically have to start at the beginning – recognising we are in the business of servicing patients and matching pharmacist skills to each patient need.
For this we need a database that can collect 360 degrees of patient input that will eventually surface as a single view of a unique pharmacy patient.
And while pharmacists may build consumer numbers they identify as “patients” it is not until those consumers themselves recognise their “patientness” and claim individual pharmacists as “their pharmacist” before the perspective becomes holistic in nature.
Patient professional services have been slowly evolving during the last business cycle that started circa 1992 and need was heightened at the start of the current business cycle (circa 2012) when it was realised that the PBS product life cycle had come to an end.
Government is seeking a new PBS model which is basically what the King Review is all about.
Stephen King is floundering in his own leadership process in this review and pharmacy political leadership has not helped because it has been divided, compromised with conflict of interest issues, and has proven incapable of suggesting a replacement PBS model.
A desperate government now seems to be floating April Fool rumours of a nationalised version of the entire pharmaceutical industry in an attempt to galvanise pharmacy leaders into doing the job they were elected/appointed to do, and propose solutions.
Individually, pharmacists are left with little choice than to become change leader activists, and this can be best done by working out how many different methods can be utilised to recruit patients, always ensuring that a patient offering is developed that is attractive to that patient.
And this is where the 360 degree input comes in so that a single view emerges for each patient (that may be aggregated as a patient group) and have designed for that group an individualised service niche offering which satisfies all professional parameters and is uniquely pharmacy identified (using branding and other tools of market communication).
While years ago a pharmacy customer/patient’s primary ways of interacting with a pharmacy was either via the pharmacy shop/dispensary or by catalogue.
Today those options include a website, mobile apps, marketplaces, and a number of social media channels, among others.
And along with the increase in the number of ways consumers have to interact with pharmacies comes a corresponding increase in the amount of information pharmacies can access information about their consumers like their geo-demographic, points of interest, search patterns, social posts, etc.
To stay competitive, pharmacists need to understand their consumers from a multichannel perspective to deliver a consistent omnichannel experience,
communicating with them no matter who and where they are and being able to provide the right information at the right time throughout all stages of the engagement and subsequent acquisition process.
The amount of information available is becoming so vast, though, that it is becoming increasingly difficult to sort through and make sense of it in a meaningful way. Complicating the challenge is the fact that the available information tends to be inconsistent, captured in different formats, and resides in multiple silos, making it difficult at best to gain a 360 degree view of each type of consumer.
The challenge that pharmacists face is to integrate, cleanse, standardise, validate, enrich and consolidate that information from the various silos and connect it in a way that provides value to their total operation.
i2P would describe the system as a “Patient Registration System” that can store information, sort information by keyword and present new insights from all data sources.
Connected to the Patient Registration System would be a basic patient introductory offering (that is either free or heavily discounted for an initially registered patient and thus provide value for a consumer now motivated to identify themselves as “your patient”.
This segment of the system would be “spun off” through continual research into new or integrated forms of patient offerings and would be enhanced with a system of marketing communications (media advertising, newsletters, interactive websites, information handbooks and catalogues/pamphlets).
It is also a channel that could form up a partnership with the research community that may attract a range of grants that could investigate outcomes delivered by community pharmacies that could be formalised and published in health Journal publications.
The entire system would be supported with carefully designed fittings and furniture with a high degree of privacy and skilled staff to provide initial engagement and backup to support a patient at all levels of contact.
The Patient Registration System should be designed to:
* Connect siloed data from all sources including from other health professionals
* Add context to patient profiles
* Uncover timely, actionable insights
* Create powerful patient experiences
* Improve patient loyalty and brand advocacy
Connecting the data
There are a number of reasons why pharmacists are struggling to maximise the benefit of the accessible patient information.
Probably the main one is that society keeps inventing new applications that capture that information.
Consider, for example, the information that can be gathered via a pharmacy’s online store.
Along with a customer’s name and address, the pharmacist has access to their buying history, giving an indication about their shopping preferences.
That information can be matched to other shoppers with the same address to give a picture of the entire household.
Which further provides a picture of like consumers who are not yet customers or patients.
Consumers also provide a host of personal information:
* they often leave reviews on social media sites,
* provide access to each consumer satisfaction levels, and an indication of personal attitudes and values.
And while it sometimes seems as if those tools have been part of our lives forever, online ordering, loyalty programs and social media sites have only been around for a relatively short time.
As a result, the consumer information management systems other retailers put in place just a few years ago aren’t capable of handling the vast volume of information that is available today, apart from the information they’ll have access to tomorrow.
But once pharmacies are able to connect those various silos, cleanse, standardize, and enrich the information, a much clearer view of the consumer emerges.
Give that information some context, and the opportunities to engage with the patient through a range of information and communication channels increases exponentially.
And combine that with a smartphone app, the pharmacy can even sense when each customer is getting close to the pharmacy.
As the consumer drives close to the location, then, the pharmacy can push them an alert to say, “Do you want us to get started on your prescription or book a consultation?”
Making sense of it all
In addition to the data consumers provide via loyalty programs and online shopping channels, consumers are now using social media channels to make their voices heard.
The challenge for pharmacists, then, is to take advantage of all those available channels to get a better, real-time view of their consumers and communicate with them more effectively.
A recent report on digital marketing trends indicates 73 percent of consumers prefer to do business with brands that personalize their shopping experiences, while 86 percent say personalisation plays a role in their buying decisions.
At the same time, Dublin, Ireland-based Accenture reports that nearly 73 percent of companies say they lack or have underdeveloped capabilities to help them manage a cross-channel experience.
Clearly, pharmacies are drowning in data with few having the capability to analyse it in a meaningful way.
To help manage the flood of data they can access, technology companies are working with business to scour those channels for information about consumers and combining it with other information sources, removing incorrect or outdated information and applying analytics to help those businesses to understand what might be relevant.
Businesses such as pharmacy can then use that information to make better decisions about how to target their communications.
And that targeting doesn’t have to be just a “buy from us” message.
Instead, it can identify different stages of the engagement process, helping the pharmacist understand who each consumer is and at what level they are at in the engagement process, using the information to guide their experience.
This process may have relevance where a patient has not had a good experience with a particular health provider and they simply want to “test the water” first before making a new commitment.
Or you may have developed a new program e.g. pain management with medical cannabis.
You can circularise specific patients whose details extracted from your patient database indicate those people have been prescribed analgesics by a doctor or who have purchased them over the counter from the pharmacy.
An email “pamphlet” describing your new program would be the first stage of an engagement.
Other stages may be accessed by other methods as the message begins to be delivered to a targeted set of consumers.
As the marketplace changes and more information about consumers comes available, the challenge for pharmacies is to find a way to leverage that information to improve service, target their product offerings and ultimately increase revenues.
Because of the uniqueness of the pharmacy market you may need to design the initial system yourself in conjunction with some savvy IT professionals and programmers – this could be the cheapest and more effective approach that leaves control of the system in your hands.
Such a system will be at the heart of your core business and the more lead-time you can generate in the face of your opposition, including predators like Big Pharma who have designs on dealing directly with your patients.
Depending on how smart you have been they will be faced with the prospect of paying for a giant workaround system or to deal with you intelligently.
The odds are still with you if you follow the old principle of “work smarter – not harder”.