Opinion

Creating the pharmacy experience of tomorrow

BY Prasanna Parthasarathy

Because of new mobile and web-based technologies, the world of retailing has seen more changes during the last few years than it has experienced over the previous decades. Collectively, this trend is known as digitization. It covers everything from the way the Starbucks’ mobile phone app has changed the daily coffee-buying routine for millions of customers to the number of well-known chain stores that have been put out of business by the growing clout of online apps. We now have a generation of young adults who have done most of their shopping virtually on their digital devices.

The same forces that have disrupted brick-and-mortar stores are now closing in on the world of pharmacy retailing. And the results are going to be just as dramatic; a few years from now the pharmacy customer experience will bear little resemblance to its current form.

These changes also will be beneficial for the healthcare system as a whole, as they will give medical professionals new tools to combat some of health care’s most pressing issues. The best example involves making sure that patients continue taking the drugs their doctors prescribe for them. The prestigious Annals of Internal Medicine recently estimated that tackling medication noncompliance would save the U.S. healthcare system an estimated $300 billion, while keeping consumers on their treatment pathway to a healthy state. Patients who are noncompliant also show a higher prevalence within the cost now being spent on chronic disease state.

To understand what the pharmacy of tomorrow might look like, let’s first consider the drug store of today. While some chains allow customers to schedule refills online, actually picking up the drugs typically involves a long wait in line. Pharmacists are usually scrambling to fill prescriptions, and too often have little time to spend with those patients who have questions about the drugs they are about to take, even those that come with significant side effects.

Overall, the pharmacy of the future is going to be designed for consultation and empowerment. In a time when anyone can order anything via Amazon, pharmacies will need to have a value proposition in order for people to continue to use them. Technology will help them deliver it.

Changes to the pharmacy experience aren’t going to be limited to the store. Because of new digital technologies, they will be following consumers back to their homes. For example, mobile phone apps will allow consumers to track whether or not they are taking their medicine per their doctor’s orders. If they go off schedule, both their pharmacy and their healthcare provider will be alerted automatically. The pharmacy of the future also will play a major role to help ensuring that patients are not admitted or readmitted to a hospital due to missed medications.

Also, technologies will support a new breed of remote monitoring devices to support patients with chronic conditions to have such crucial metrics as pulse and heartbeat transmitted automatically to their healthcare providers. This can serve as an early-warning system, allowing everyone involved with the patient’s care, from pharmacy to primary care provider, to intervene and stave off a full-blown medical emergency.

Today’s pharmacies should not be caught blindsided. The list of businesses that were caught blindsided by the Internet and other digital technologies is a long one. Pharmacies have the opportunity to succeed where the others failed. Pharmacies should embrace newer technologies and transform their in-store culture from fulfillment to the consumer experience.

Customers visiting the pharmacy should walk back with a positive experience beyond pills. A successful pharmacy of the future will have a good balance of customer experience culture and technologies in order to transform health care one community at a time. Can the existing big players make this shift, or is this market ready for disruption from newer players similar to the rest of the retail industry?

Prasanna Parthasarathy is worldwide vice president/GM, medication management (Pyxis and Rowa technologies) at BD.

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Editor’s note: boom or bust

BY Seth Mendelson

Warning: A strong economy does not necessarily mean great times for the mass retail industry.

In fact, it may mean a lot of trouble for retailers trying to keep a steady balance among the various facets of their businesses.

And, we may be about to find out just how crazy the good times can be. A combination of factors, including the just-implemented Republican-led tax cuts, the best wage increases in more than two decades and a pretty good feeling among consumers, appear to be spurring an economic engine that is getting hotter and hotter by the day.

Sounds like a perfect scenario for retailers, among others, to cash in. A happy consumer, flush with disposable income and eager to spend, should mean more rings at the cash register for merchants, and that would quickly translate into greater profits for all: retailers, distributors and manufacturers.

But there are signs out there that the economy is growing at too fast a clip. Unemployment could fall to the dreaded 3.5% mark — or lower — the point where economists have said that everyone who wants to work is working. That means that retailers, with historically huge employee turnover rates, and always in search of new workers, will have to pay more — maybe much more  —  to get people to work at their stores, especially during those dreaded weekend and night/overnight shifts.

Even worse, retailers may not be able to find enough qualified workers, and will have to start paring hours because of the lack of employees to man the store. Frankly, some will have to rework their entire business plan because of a worker shortage or big increase in compensation.

Sounds implausible, you say. Well, this has happened before. In the late 1990s, a booming economy caused a combination of increased wages and worker shortages that played havoc with retailers looking to cash in on optimistic consumer sentiment and the desire to spend, spend and spend some more. Many retailers were so desperate that they were hanging signs from their windows imploring people to apply for work at their stores, offering wages that were sometimes near double the minimum wage and other costly benefits. One Northeast-based chain was even offering gift cards to consumers if they could help them hire and retain new employees. Often, however, the people they found were not the cream of the crop, which caused its own set of problems.

Here’s the worst news of all. There is not much the retail community can do if this scenario plays out. Economics being what they are will force merchants to look harder and longer for the right employees, and will make sure they take the right steps to keep their current workers more content and less willing to leave for greener pastures.

In the end, we all want the good times to roll, but just not too much, it seems.

 

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