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How technology is shaping patient-centric prescription services

At a time when patient expectations are shifting fast, pharmacies and dispensing practices are under pressure to evolve – the question is ‘how?’. Technology, if deployed in the right way, can help provide the answer, says Gary Paragpuri, CEO of Hub and Spoke Innovations.

Change – whether welcome or not – has become the constant across all industries in today’s fast-paced, digitally-driven world.

It can certainly be felt in relation to the dispensing of medicines. Here, change continues to be driven by the expanding threat from the global internet pharmacy market which, according to Coherent Market Insights, is predicted to grow at a rate of 14-16% to 2025, when it will be worth as much as $125bn.

For patients, the appeal is almost exclusively one of convenience, as people living switched-on, time-poor lives seek out services that can help alleviate some pressure. As a result, both community pharmacies and dispensing practices face the challenge of delivering a more efficient, effective and user-friendly service for the  dispensing of medicines, and they are increasingly turning to automation and digital technology to balance the needs of patients with the increasing demands on staff.

This shift is something that has not been lost on the major pharmacy multiples, who are innovating in a variety of ways to bring higher levels of digital convenience to a customer base whose expectations of service have been recalibrated to new heights by the super-slick experiences delivered by companies such as Amazon.

In June, McKesson UK, the parent company of Lloydspharmacy, underlined its intent to develop a more digitally-focused healthcare offering for patients with the announcement that it had acquired Echo, an app that gives patients the ability to manage the ordering and delivery of repeat prescriptions via their smartphone.

As well as the stated aims of ease and convenience, technology such as Echo puts control directly into the hands of patients. This is something also in evidence at Boots, currently in the process of trialling collection lockers at five of its stores across the UK. Orders are placed online via the Boots website and medicines are deposited into one of the locker’s 162 compartments, with patients gaining access using the code sent to them by text.

The service was launched in June at the company’s new-format store in London’s Covent Garden, which also includes an express medicines pick-up service. Sebastian James, Managing Director of Boots UK and ROI, described the store as marking the start of “a journey of reinventing Boots for the future”.

Well Pharmacy is also deep into its mission to bring pharmacy into the digital age. Transformation Director Chris Ellett has spoken of the role of automation in supporting a hub and spoke model to drive efficiency and free-up pharmacists to spend more time with patients.

The theory was first put into practice in Northenden, Manchester - the first of Well’s pharmacies to be created in the mould of its ‘essential pharmacy’ concept. The store features modern retail design cues and a larger, more efficient dispensary space. It also includes a Pharmaself24 automated collection machine to give patients the convenient option of picking up their medicines at a time that suits them best – even outside of pharmacy opening hours.

In acknowledgement of changes such as these and the tech-smart nature of today’s pharmacy services, in April 2019 the General Pharmaceutical Council  issued updated guidance for pharmacists on the provision of services “at a distance”. While placing a clear emphasis on patient safety, the guidance indicates the regulator’s clear stance to “support and encourage responsible innovation”.

For both community pharmacy and dispensing practices, this sentiment underlines that technology – while not necessarily the saviour of all ills - is set to play an increasing role in patient relationships, helping speed the medicines collection process and freeing pharmacists and dispensing staff to focus on providing professional advice and support at the point it can add greatest value.

Technology has a tendency to inspire blind faith in some and fear in others. Arguably, we are better to borrow from the original sceptics of Ancient Greece, who shunned such dogmatic positions in favour of keeping open minds – only then can we truly understand and take advantage of new opportunities that will enable us to better serve patients whose lives and expectations are continuing to evolve at pace.

Case study: The Medical Centre, Driffield

Situated in Driffield, in rural Yorkshire, The Medical Centre is a dispensing GP practice serving a broadly dispersed patient community. Dispensing income is an important revenue stream and in the face of competition from online pharmacies and local pharmacy multiples with bright, modern interiors, the partners sought ways to update the patient offering and experience.

Having considered – and discounted – options for a delivery service and 24-hour opening as too expensive, the team decided  to introduce automated prescription collection with the installation of a Pharmaself24 robot. It offered a ‘best of both worlds’ approach, where patients – particularly those on repeats - could pick up medicines with minimum hassle while maintaining access to the medical team. For the staff, any initial fears that busy day-to-day working lives might be complicated by the Pharmaself24 were soon banished as it bedded into the practice’s workflow. Patient numbers are building encouragingly and providing an enhanced level of customer service has put The Medical Centre in a more competitive position. GP Partner Dr Neil Folwell said: “It can get really busy, with people queuing and waiting, but this really takes a lot of pressure off reception. It’s just so much more efficient for people collecting their medicines.”

Hub and Spoke Innovations is the UK supplier of the Pharmaself24 prescription collection robot. To book a demonstration and take advantage of a special discount package for Dispex members, contact or call 0744 3474 993. For more information on the Pharmaself24, visit