Community pharmacy proposals are unimaginative: new radical ways of working required

Paul Gimson, National Primary Care Manager at 1000 Lives Plus

MY smart watch has been monitoring by blood pressure and diagnosed me with hypertension. I’ve discussed this with a ‘Dr’ chatbot through my smart speaker who has recommended medication which has just been manufactured and dispensed from my 3­D printer. Where does a pharmacist fit into this scenario?

I can remember being surprised when I started working in pharmacy that one of the jobs I was expected to do was film processing. As it turned out, I quite enjoyed it, as it was one of the many opportunities community pharmacy gives you to build relationships with the community you serve.

At the time, huge brick like mobile phones were emerging into the World, still regarded as somewhat of a novelty by those not well off enough to afford one. If you had predicted then that the mobile phone would contribute to the demise of the photo processing machine taking up half of the stock room, you would have been laughed out of the dispensary. But it did.

There is much debate at the moment about the impact of IT on the future of pharmacy and in particular the impact that internet giants like Amazon might have if they enter the pharmacy market. I think the debate we are having is too narrow: it focuses on the impact technology will have on supply (and remuneration) in what is portrayed as a largely unchanged model.

The current internet pharmacy model is not really that different from the community pharmacy model that has existed for many years. The proposals that the profession are putting forward are unimaginative, conservative and variations on essentially the same community pharmacy model we currently have.

I don’t want to devalue that model as I know the benefits it brings. But what we do know is when a technology giant like Amazon enters a market they don’t just tinker around the edges of it.

They completely reinvent it.

The changes coming to pharmacy won’t be limited to supply, they will be much more profound. Just look at how companies like Uber and Deliveroo have revolutionised their respective industries – all without owning a single taxi or restaurant. Look at how we access banking, films, music and how we monitor our fitness activities. All in ways that were probably unimaginable 20, maybe even 10 years ago.

We can already get medical information through a smart speaker in our home. Medical advice is already being dispensed by artificially intelligent Chatbots on our phones. Drugs can be produced on 3‐D printers that are getting smaller, cheaper and more sophisticated by the day. Wristwatches monitor our health already and talk to our phones which process the data and give you health advice accordingly.

Put all of this together, along with everything else that is happening with technology, and it’s not difficult to imagine a pharmacy world that is radically different from the one we are in now.

There used to be a Blockbuster video store on the high street near where I live. It’s gone now, and has gone from every high street in the country. It disappeared virtually overnight. Technology rendered its supply model obsolete. Pharmacy is not the same thing as a video rental store but it’s not inconceivable that community pharmacy could go the same way.

I don’t want to be replaced by a smart speaker! Pharmacy can thrive in this new world. We need to lead this change and not fall victim to it. Adaptability will be key, and a willingness to accept radically new ways of working. The looming of Amazon on the horizon should not be viewed as a threat, which if we fight will surely be a losing battle. It should be viewed as a challenge – an opportunity for us to do things differently and better!

This article was artificially generated by Gim‐bot – an algorithmic-led pharmacy chatbot available now in the app‐store…


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