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27 January 2021 by Numark

Learn to love digital - Alex Potter

  • Wales
  • England
  • Scotland
  • Northern Ireland

Originally an Australian Pharmacist who owned and operated community pharmacies, Alex has been brought in on a consultancy basis to help develop and deliver our digital strategy. Alex is UK CEO of a start-up called SiSU Health and has developed a keen interest in technology and automation as well as digital proposition development. His fascination with all things digital, led to him becoming CEO of Think Pharmacy Group which comprised of a community pharmacy group focused on Health Centres and Care Homes (Think Pharmacy), a multi dose manufacturing company (MPS Australia) and an automation distributor and Software development company (Dose Innovations).

At Think Group, Alex led product development and introduced agile development techniques, developing a Care Home specific PMR and associated eMAR product. In 2013 Alex moved to the UK and started working at Co-op Pharmacy, transitioned to Well and went on to become the Head of Innovation. In 2017 he was offered the opportunity to start a health care venture in the Co-op Group, which led to the development and launch of Co-op Health in early 2019.

We are delighted to have Alex on board to share his wealth of experience and to support members to embrace our digital ambitions.

Embrace digital

Digital transformation and ‘going digital’ are not new concepts, we have been talking about ecommerce and the omnichannel experience for a number of years now. In reality, health care has been slow to move, with its numerous stakeholders, high regulation barrier and the strength of its professional groups, digital innovation has been difficult in the sector. To be fair, few have wanted it to change and customers seemed to be happy with a bricks and mortar experience.

COVID has changed everything, and it is highly unlikely that we will ever go back, we have seen decades of change occur in a matter of months. There has been a rapid uptake in digital healthcare services from telemedicine to digital pharmacies, our customers had to adapt and they had to adapt quickly. In fact, for many of them it has been a relatively easy adaption, they have been transacting in a digital way in so many other facets of their life, that it has almost felt natural.

When we think about digital pharmacy, in real terms it’s a perfect blend of tech with traditional bricks and mortar presence. The growth of 24 hour automated medicine dispensing systems, customer apps such as Patient Access and in pharmacy health stations means more and more patients will expect access to their prescription and health advice and services on their own terms. Digital pharmacy has had a watershed moment during the COVID crisis and it is now becoming mainstream.

I’m often asked what percentage of the market will end up as DSP only and how much will stay as bricks and mortar. Unfortunately I do not know the answer to this, but if we look to food retail, we know that in excess of 20% (pre-COVID numbers) of volume was online, and that is with all the difficulties like sizes, short expiry dates and returns. Another good example is books, greater than 70% of all book purchases are digital (including e-books), and it makes me wonder, do medicines have more similarities to books or food?

So, things have changed, and they will continue to change and I suspect in the future somewhere between 40-60% of all prescriptions will be ordered through online channels. Notice, I am being very specific with my words, ordered through online channels is very different from, dispensed by online pharmacies. In fact, when you dig a little deeper greater than 15% of prescriptions are already ordered through digital channels (POMI Data) it is just that we measure who dispenses the prescription, not how it is ordered.

Patient Access, SystmOnline and the NHS app are designed to facilitate the ordering of repeat prescriptions and the customer chooses which pharmacy they would like to dispense their prescriptions. Many of your customers may already be using one of these mechanisms to order prescriptions and you probably don’t know who they are.

Community pharmacy will have to move, or face the inevitable decline of its market share, and I am sure there are very few pharmacies that could survive a 40-60% drop in their revenue.

Numark has been taking this very seriously over the last six months, we’re trying to answer two questions:

1 - How can we help our members compete in the digital world and;

2 - How do we keep our pharmacies as a cornerstone of our communities?

Our ambition is to provide you with the tools you need to compete effectively in the new world, by:

 - Opening up key digital prescriptions channels to our members.

 - Providing the tools to increase dispensing efficiency as well as simplifying the administration and financial overhead of running a pharmacy business, so you can spend more time with your customers.

 - Opening up digital channels for pharmacy services as well as tools that will help you engage your customers and form digital (as well as physical) relationships with them.

Numark will release a number of digital products in 2021, and you will have no doubt heard of a few of them. Golden Tote is aimed at providing our members with increased dispensary efficiency, giving pharmacies back valuable time to focus on services.

Golden Tote is just the beginning, we also want to help you grow your business, by giving you reach beyond your current postcodes. With this in mind we have been working closely with EMIS and Patient Access to provide you with a unique offering that will help drive prescription and service volume. Our long term ambition is to give our members the opportunity to compete with the online players by combining the best of both worlds for our customers. The convenience of online ordering combined with the care in the community that a local pharmacy can provide.

We also see the need for our members to move beyond prescriptions and into the provision of services. The industry has been saying this for a very long time, in fact I remember being told in pharmacy school that in the future the pharmacist’s role would primarily be about service provision, but in reality 90% of my job was to dispense. However it does feel different now, we can no longer depend on dispensing for our profitability so we are going to have to figure out how to make services a key part of our pharmacy operation, that’s where Numark can help.

We are exploring ways to attract customers to accessing pharmacy services, by using digital technologies that allow our customer to get a clear picture of their current heath as well as giving them the ability to make genuine health improvement. We have been working in collaboration with SiSU Health, to provide a detailed health check and health risk assessment and to match a customer health need to pharmacy products and services. The development is in its early phase, but already we see a high level of engagement from customers.

We are also continuing to work with Patient Access, to give their 11.2 million users access to pharmacy services.

OVER THE COURSE OF 2021 WE WILL CONTINUE TO DEVELOP OUR DIGITAL CONCEPTS, KEEPING OUR MEMBERS AND OUR MEMBER’S CUSTOMER AT THE CENTRE OF OUR DEVELOPMENT STRATEGIES.

It is really time that community pharmacy begins to embrace the digital world seeing it as a key part of our future offerings. If we can provide the convenience of online with care of the community pharmacy, then we should be able to offer our customers the best of both worlds. We do have some key advantages that we can leverage, no matter how hard our digital competitors try, they will not be able to replicate the relationships we can build with our customers nor the breadth of services we can provide.

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