Caroline Cassell, Pharmacy Development Manager (PDM) for the South, found that it takes more than simply ordering diabetes testing equipment to make a service a success.

Securing patient loyalty

There are an increasing number of members looking to set up a service within their pharmacy. We have certainly seen a significant increase in response to the evolving contractual agenda. Our members are realising that in order to sustain and grow their pharmacy business they need to look at other ways of securing patient loyalty over and above that of simply dispensing a prescription and through their retail business.

One such member, Nanj Patel of Hemants, was particularly inspired by our 2010 conference in Delhi and decided to get more involved in services, calling on me to help. He wanted to know how Numark could support him in establishing a diabetes service and how he could promote this during the forthcoming diabetes awareness week that June.

Setting up a service

During our first meeting we discussed how he could access £200 through Numark's local marketing fund to help promote the service to the community. I took him through the diabetes toolkit that was available, which would help him not only set up but deliver the service. We ordered a Diabetes Screening Toolkit from NumarkNet, and with the help from the training manual and staff training guide, we used these to educate his team in identifying and engaging with patients, as well as providing training on how to establish and deliver the service.

Nanj then contacted four of the local surgeries to explain his intention to offer a service, out of which two wanted to become involved and agreed to participate with signposting patients to the service as well as displaying the poster provided by Numark in the surgery. They also agreed to send a practice nurse to support our pharmacy team with training on taking blood samples and providing advice to patients.

Communication and marketing

After the first week of promoting his service, I arranged a meeting to see how he was getting on. Feedback from the staff indicated that take up hadn't been great with only four people being tested since launch. I discussed with Nanj that more in store promotion to communicate the service was needed and we decided to create an eye catching window display to advertise the service to not only existing customers but also passersby.

We invested in some helium balloons with 'FREE diabetes testing' messaging and created some banners for the window detailing 'Diabetes Awareness Week'. Customers walking in and out of the pharmacy appeared oblivious to all the activity going on around them so I decided to approach some of them and ask them directly if they had considered being screened for diabetes. Their first response was consistently - "how much?" followed by "how long will it take?" once we had answered these initial queries with "it's free" and "about 5 minutes" we found ourselves with a queue of people waiting to be tested and talking to the pharmacy team about their health history.

By the end of the day, we were averaging 10 patients per hour and not one involved the pharmacist. The only time Nanj got involved was when a customer had such high readings that her GP had to be contacted immediately to arrange to see her out of hours. It turned out that she was a ticking time bomb; she later returned to the pharmacy to thank them as she said the test had saved her life.

Engaging with customers is vital

With pharmacy of the future being more service led than ever before I would recommend that all pharmacies consider investing in setting up a service and start simple. Importantly, irrespective of how many or the quality of services you offer, your approach, communication and marketing is crucial.

Numark can help; whether it is through practical toolkits, patient information, GP engagement materials, training or marketing and communication support we have all the tools available to support you.

Remember, using your teams to engage and communicate with customers is invaluable; by simply asking a quick question you could generate more business and increase patient loyalty - we certainly proved the point for Nanj and he has never looked back.