January 9, 2019

2019 – a year of change, choice and opportunity for community pharmacy

Digitisation, healthcare services and collaboration are transforming many pharmacies into community health hubs. We look at four key changes and opportunities to expect in the year ahead.

Pharmacies are changing, and fast. Many are moving towards a health hub model focused on building on their trust and respect as a community health practitioner.

Of course, not every pharmacy will want to follow this path – some are naturally more retail-focused and discount orientated. These are very different ends of the spectrum and, as we look ahead to 2019 and beyond, I think it’s important for all pharmacists to clarify the role they want their pharmacy to play in the future. That way, as major changes start to take effect, they’ll be ready to make the most of them and remain relevant to their local communities.

1. More opportunities

Pharmacists are highly-educated medicines experts and arguably the most accessible healthcare professionals in the country.

Australia has a network of close to 6,000 pharmacies open for an average of about 60 hours a week, and people can generally walk in and speak to a qualified professional without an appointment. They have the potential to play a much more significant role in primary healthcare and we’re already seeing increasing opportunities to provide more health-based services. In 2019, for example, new regulations will permit many pharmacists to deliver a wider range of vaccinations such as influenza; MMR (mumps, measles and rubella); and DTP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis or whooping cough), depending on state legislation currently being rolled out. There may also be opportunities for pharmacists to play a more active role in other aspects of prevention, such as screening for certain diseases, risk assessments and point-of-care testing.

As long as the pharmacy sector can demonstrate that it’s delivering evidence-based patient outcomes, I’d expect the government to continue increasing funding for these kinds of services.

2. More collaboration

We’ll see more collaboration in 2019, in a number of ways but particularly as a result of digitisation and the different ways it’s playing out:

  • The government is paving the way for greater collaboration between pharmacists and other primary healthcare providers with initiatives such as My Health Record, which will enable digital information to be shared. This will make it easier for pharmacists to add value in several ways. The most obvious is helping Australians manage and understand their medication, which could result in improved levels of compliance and better outcomes.
  • As the population ages and the incidence of chronic disease continues to rise, more people will need multiple medications – possibly prescribed by different doctors and specialists, which can be very confusing for the patient. Collaboration with other health professionals could help pharmacists to monitor all of these medications and help their customers understand things like possible side effects and potential interactions. Digitisation could also open the door to more customer engagement.
  • Text or email notifications and reminders can help patients comply with their doctors’ recommendations and pharmacists could add more value by, for example, creating time for consultations by having prescriptions ready to collect. This will also encourage extra visits to the pharmacy, providing more opportunities for pharmacists to get to know their patients, ask about any problems they’re having with their medication and, perhaps, suggest ways to improve their quality of life. That’s a better outcome for everybody.

3. More data

Data will continue to play an increasingly important role in the business of running a pharmacy. Many of our pharmacy banking customers, for example, are already doing a great job of collecting and managing financial information. This lets them make more informed decisions and react quickly to things like a slow-moving stock line.

Our large market share and deep understanding of the sector helps us identify performance trends and benchmarks, so we can assess how well individual customers are travelling and provide them with real-time feedback. Where appropriate, we can recommend strategies to help strengthen the financial performance of their business.

4. More services

Some pharmacies are already well on the way to providing the kind of community health hub outlined by the Pharmacy Guild in its October 2018 report Community Pharmacy 2025 as one that “builds on a core expertise in medicines and facilitates the provision of an array of essential, cost-effective health products and services to an empowered and informed patient and consumer”.

Many of my clients, for example, have always been part of their community, dispensing knowledge and providing a personalised service to people they think of as patients rather than customers.  They’re focused on health outcomes and there’s always at least one pharmacist out at the front where they can easily engage with their patients. They’re providing the kind of experience that builds trust and loyalty, and I think this kind of approach may be the way of the future for pharmacists who choose to follow a service-orientated path.

Based in Perth, Michael Gregory is NAB’s Senior Health Banking Manager – Pharmacy.