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The rise of patient-centred technologies in community pharmacy

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What addition would enable better patient-centred care in your pharmacy? For community pharmacists and pharmacy owners, additional staff are often the first preference. With the current technology capacity of most UK pharmacies, extra staff mean more prescriptions dispensed, more services conducted and more patients attended to. But when the same question is limited to technological additions, responses are often more polarised, owing to drastically dissimilar experiences.

There is a clear divide in technology adoption. At one end, very few pharmacies in the UK have adopted highly integrated pharmacy automation technologies. No matter how efficient these packaging robots are, their high volume of dispensing comes at the expense of pharmacy space, training, maintenance and budgets.

At the other end of the spectrum, some pharmacies tend to adopt sporadic technology solutions to separately cover selected aspects of patient care. For example, most pharmacies use online platforms to log incoming service appointments, or texting services to remind patients of their medication schedule and repeats ready for collection.

Occasionally, community pharmacies pioneer customised solutions for patients in a confined geographical area, such as mobile app-enabled repeat and delivery. However, some see the coordination of these local platforms and tools as a complex challenge that incurs the opportunity cost of missing out latest industry best practice – resulting in stagnated modernisation of pharmacy.

Patients using technology to track and improve their health, diet and fitness have often not had the same attitude towards medicines management. For instance, apps that monitor sugar intake or levels of exercise are commonplace in the consumer market, while the area of medicines management has remained somewhat overlooked.

There is a clear gap in pharmacy technologies, which can be filled by patient-centred solutions, and this is where the change in direction lies for 2017: scalable technologies that enable patients to take control of their medication, and are both affordable and applicable to all pharmacies settings.

New pharmacy-integrated technologies will assist pharmacists with their workflow, as opposed to bringing in extra technicalities or confusion. Therefore, the technologies that standardise and channel all the pharmacy offerings into a single point of access will become an attractive option. Imagine a one-stop shop of all common patient-centred care elements, where the user flow makes logical links between these elements to optimise monetisation and minimise resources waste.

In 2017, pharmacy-integrated technologies will start empowering patients with information and top-tier user experience, while bringing pharmacies tangible benefits. It is typical for pharmacies to have adopted some type of medicine app or gadget. However, historically those standalone technology solutions have not proved successful owing either to a lack of incentive for patients to adopt the technology or for the pharmacists to promote it. After all, amid the industry-wide budget cuts and the tightening regulation on repeat prescriptions, pharmacy owners have to seek a challenging balance between efficacies and return on investment of patient-centred solutions.

Importantly, patient-centred care solutions will place trust in patients to take ownership of their conditions once health professionals have provided appropriate assistance. Patients are empowered by providing essential and professional information, rather than limited with impersonalised rules and guidelines. In turn, this cultivates good patient habits by initiating the right level of engagement, rather than applying strict monitoring. Take medical adherence as an example: more than 50% of the UK population is currently taking a prescription, yet only 16% of patients who are on a new medicine take it as prescribed, experience no problems and receive as much information as needed. The rest are either in need of more information about their medication regimen, or require appropriate intervention to get back on track.

Operational and financial challenges lie ahead, but 2017 could see the advance of patient-centred technologies and the rise of community pharmacy as the digital personal healthcare hub.

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