The virtually accessible pharmacist
Superintendent pharmacist Omar El-Gohary enjoys the challenge of combining medicines, business and technology expertise in his role at online pharmacy Chemist Direct.
How were your early years of practice?
I completed my pre-registration year in hospital pharmacy. I enjoyed my degree and was looking forward to starting work but I did not realise how much more I needed to learn. I enjoyed my pre-registration experience, particularly areas such as medicines management and clinical pharmacy.
After registering, I decided to spend six months each year travelling. I worked in community pharmacy as a locum for the rest of the year to earn enough to pay for it. I enjoyed the variety of working with different people and different systems. After a few years, an opportunity arose to work as a regional manager for care home supplier Pharmacy Plus.
At the time, Pharmacy Plus was developing a range of new processes, including using electronic medication administration record charts and establishing a bespoke administration and patient medication record system. In this role, I spent a lot of time travelling to care homes, implementing new systems and training staff.
Why did you decide to move to an online pharmacy rather than the traditional bricks and mortar?
Having worked in more traditional pharmacy models for some years, I was looking to do something a bit different. I was aware that Chemist Direct’s chief executive was Stuart Rowe, former managing director of play.com, and I was keen to have the opportunity to work with him.
A large proportion of the population is unable, or too busy, to see their pharmacist and I saw that the online model could be used to deliver healthcare services to these people.
I was also attracted by the chance to apply the skills and knowledge of working in community pharmacy alongside a whole new set of skills in online retail. Because Chemist Direct is a technology company as well as a pharmacy, I could get involved in the development of new systems and services to improve what the company offers to its customers.
What is the most challenging part of your current role?
The most obvious hurdle is lack of direct, face-to-face contact with patients but that does not stop me from interacting with them. I communicate with patients via email and telephone, and I find this allows me to give detailed and tailored advice. A lack of physical contact with GP surgeries can also be a challenge. To help facilitate GP services, I am involved in a project to develop technological solutions, such as the electronic prescriptions service.
Additionally, I need to ensure that any information I put on the website not only fully informs patients about the products and services that are available but is also optimised for the online market and ranks well on search engines.
On the regulatory side, there were a few differences I had to get to grips with, particularly distance selling regulations. For example, online pharmacies must ensure that they can safely post medicines to patients, and meet regulations regarding online medicines advertising.
What do you enjoy most about your role and how would you like it to develop?
I enjoy working with people from a variety of different disciplines including pharmacy, medicine, information technology and marketing. I am always learning something new from others and this collaboration often yields better results.
In particular, I would like to be able to work more closely with the IT team to develop new skills, such as computer programming, in order to get a better understanding of how new and existing services can be optimised for a web platform.
Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20066861
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