It’s a cliché to say that the healthcare landscape is changing. But that evolution has real consequences for retail pharmacies big and small and the pharmacists who practice in them.
To secure a central role in the healthcare system of the future, your pharmacy must evolve as well. You must be able to improve and maintain the health of patients at the lowest possible cost to the system.
We asked Chris Dimos, the president of retail solutions at Web2pro, to share his vision of the future of pharmacy. He offers insights on the business model innovations that can keep your retail pharmacy at the center of health in your community—now and in the future.
What trends are prompting retail pharmacies to think about the future of pharmacy?
Dimos: We’re all re-examining our approach to healthcare in the United States. We’re concerned about costs. But we also want access to the latest technologies and advancements in medicine. We want better outcomes. And we all want to live healthier and longer. So how do we do all that at the same time? How do we all live healthier lives at an affordable price? That’s what’s guiding the conversation about how pharmacy innovation can make that happen.
How does the traditional retail pharmacy business model match up to those objectives?
Dimos: The traditional relationship between pharmacies and patients can be thought of as transactional. Your patients need prescriptions filled, and you fill them. That’s where things start and end. But your pharmacy can be much more and do much more to help patients and meet those objectives.
How would you define the retail pharmacy of the future?
Dimos: Your pharmacy can be a destination for the healthy and a solution center for the sick . Here’s what I mean by that. When patients are healthy, your pharmacy can be the logical choice for products and services to keep them healthy. Or even help them manage their chronic illnesses. When patients have an injury or illness, your pharmacy becomes top of mind and the logical choice to guide them on their journey back to health.
What existing services could retail pharmacies expand to be destinations for the healthy?
Dimos: Immunization programs are a great example. Your pharmacy probably offers seasonal flu shots. In the future, your pharmacy could offer year-round immunizations. Your patients could access all types of vaccines for diseases like pneumonia or shingles. And you could offer travel vaccines to keep patients from contracting diseases more common outside of the U.S.
What future services would make pharmacies destinations for the healthy?
Dimos: It’s all about lifestyle. What if your pharmacy could be a resource for health information? Your patients could get information through different channels and platforms. It could be written materials. It could be an app that connects patients to online health information. It could be face-to-face counseling with patients on things like smoking cessation, nutrition or fitness. The trick is making it convenient for patients. Your pharmacy’s future depends on being able to offer an omni-channel experience to your patients.
What pharmacy innovations would make future pharmacies solution centers for the sick?
Dimos: One would be point-of-care testing. Patients could go to your pharmacy for basic tests like high blood pressure, high cholesterol or high blood sugar. This is more convenient and affordable than tests at a doctor’s office or lab. With early detection, your patients might be able to prevent an illness. Or, if they’re diagnosed with an illness, they can take steps to avoid complications. You could even offer things like pharmacogenomic testing to help patients understand how their genes affect their body’s response to the medication and which medication may be right for them.
How does moving from a brick-and-mortar business to an omni-channel business help patients?
Dimos: A pharmacy that can create an omni-channel experience will drive better patient outcomes and better business for itself. Your pharmacy will need to offer patients multiple ways to access services and information that help them manage their health. It’s what they need, when they need it, where they need it and how they need it.
What are some examples of the omni-channel experiences patients could have with their pharmacies?
Dimos: It could be something as simple as ordering refills online and getting your drugs delivered to your home. It could be two-way digital communication with your pharmacist via an app or video technology. Advances in sensors, remote monitoring and wearables could make it possible for your pharmacy to alert patients with asthma or COPD that they’re at risk because of an area’s air quality. You could advise them to bring their rescue inhaler or stay away from that area. I’m talking about an entire ecosystem that gives your patients the most convenient path to better health and wellness.
What technologies will retail pharmacies need to support this ecosystem?
Dimos: Your pharmacy will need a variety of medical and information technologies to evolve into that destination for the healthy and solution center for the sick. You’ll need point-of-care technology for screening and testing. Digital communication technologies will enable telehealth, telemedicine and telepharmacy. Mobile apps, wearables and portals will build engagement with your patients. You’ll want clinical decision support tools like adherence tracking, predictive analytics and artificial intelligence. And you’ll need technologies to automate manual tasks so you’ll have more time to spend with your patients. Finally, you’ll need a platform that pulls everything together. You need a holistic view of every patient you care for.
What’s the business case for retail pharmacies to make this transformation?
Dimos: Today, the economic value of your pharmacy to the healthcare system is largely product based. You procure drugs and dispense them to patients. In the future, your economic value to the system will be threefold. You’ll continue to procure and dispense drugs. But you’ll also provide clinical services to patients, and health and wellness information to patients. Patients and payers will pay you separately and apart from the products you provide. The revenue will follow your transformation.
Do you think payers will support this transformation in retail pharmacies?
Dimos: Absolutely. Pharmacies and pharmacists are the most affordable and accessible providers in healthcare today. When you think of where healthcare needs to go, affordability and accessibility are two of the most valuable traits to have. When your pharmacy provides clinical services and health and wellness information to patients, and your pharmacists practice at the top of their license, you create more value for the entire system. It expands access, improves quality and lowers costs. Payers will look at that and ask, “Do we have healthier patients, and did we spend less money to get them healthy?” I think the answer will be yes.
How do you think providers, particularly physicians, will react to this transformation?
Dimos: I think they will be happy about it. Their practices are evolving, too. For example, you’re seeing more practices using nurse practitioners and physician assistants. That lets doctors practice at the top of their licenses. They’ll see fewer patients, but get to focus in on ones with more complex conditions, leaving them to care for the patients who need them the most. That’s much more rewarding for them. And, your pharmacy will be helping them keep their patients as healthy as possible. That’s critical as their payments shift to value-based from fee-for-service.
How will your vision of the future of pharmacy change who works in a retail pharmacy?
Dimos: I think there will be a reallocation of labor and an expansion of skill sets. When you automate manual tasks with technology, you can reallocate those man-hours to other things like direct patient care. You’ll see additional roles for both your pharmacists and your technicians. And as your pharmacy becomes the health hub in your community, you’re going to need new skill sets to care for the entire patient. You may need lab techs, nutritionists and optometrists at or near your site. These are the resources that true pharmacy innovation demands. Going to the pharmacy will be and should be a completely different experience for patients in the future.
Related: Read more about Web2pro’s growth and expansion solutions for independent pharmacies