Specialised tech stacks are helping pharmacies of all sizes digitally transform their traditionally brick-and-mortar businesses
According to a recent study, the global online pharmacy market was valued at US$68.2 billion in 2020, and as the trend spreads, that number is set to grow to US$202.3 billion by 2027.
Digitalisation will be especially important as we witness gradual shifts in the role of the community dispensary into a holistic centre for well-being where pharmacists are ever more responsible for patients’ general healthcare.
Generally speaking, online platforms can help pharmacists “shore up the patient journey” in a number of ways:
- Reducing administration errors, a critical change in the case of healthcare;
- Empowering pharmacies to grow the list of available services; and
- Minimise busywork and waiting time so they can focus on caring for their patient.
To be sure, digitalisation isn’t new to the pharmacy industry. According to Susanna Funes at Good Rebels, pharmaceutical chains have been turning to software to improve their processes and bottom lines for years now.
Dispensing systems have been mainstays of pharmacy operations for many years now, and are critical for tracking patient scripts, medication requirements and priority workflows. Depending on the territory they are also usually integrated with the national healthcare systems such as the NHS in the UK. The software plays an especially important role in managing differences in dispensing requirements across the various countries in the UK—for example, dispensing in England and Wales is not precisely the same as Northern Ireland.
Beyond that, chains have more marketing and technology resources at their disposal than your typical independent community pharmacy to increase their reach to customers.
However, the needs of a community pharmacy aren’t always the same as those of the big chains, leading to differences in what each “tech stack” looks like. But before we get into how to think about our tech stacks, let’s figure out what a tech stack even is.
Defining the tech stack
“Tech stack” is just jargon for the collection of digital platforms and softwares that underlie your business’ many systems—literally, a stack of tech piled one atop the other. For a community pharmacy, this might look like a combination of softwares for managing patients’ records, e-prescriptions, inventory tracking, ecommerce capabilities, and medical billing.
Most stacks have different interfaces depending on who is looking at it—customers or the pharmacy itself—but it’s worth noting that the more softwares you take on, the more complicated each stack can get.
Not all tech stacks will look the same for every pharmacy. Larger chains will naturally require bigger, more sophisticated pieces of software to manage their businesses at scale, while small, community pharmacies at the beginning of their digitalisation journey may only choose one or two different pieces of software to start off.
What’s in your stack?
There is no hard and fast rule as to what you must include in your tech stack, but here are 4 mainstays that are common in today’s community pharmacy:
1. Electronic Health Records (EHR) software
Also known as patient medical record (PMR) software, EHR software streamlines the management of patient records in a secure and organised way, while also bolstering capabilities for after-care monitoring. EHR software can help minimise the prevalence of human error, which is a major problem in the medical documentation processes as it affects not just diagnoses but prescriptions.
2. E-dispensing, or digital prescription software
With e-dispensing tech, pharmacies can make it easy to check prescriptions, accept and manage online orders and payments. In Finland, for example, the greater take-up of e-dispensing services has led to 13% decrease in time spent fulfilling a prescription over the counter.
3. Ecommerce management.
Having an ecommerce application makes it easy to open a digital storefront for your business to allow customers to browse your available stock and place orders with a variety of payment options. Many ecommerce platforms also come with inventory management capabilities that can help you maintain the right levels of stock.
4. Cybersecurity solutions.
Having a strong approach to cybersecurity is a “must-have” for pharmacies, as they deal with sensitive patient information. Most cybersecurity solutions today can extend protection throughout the entire stack, and it’s absolutely worth it to have a security piece at the centre of your business.
Now that you’ve seen some of the common pieces of software for pharmacies, it’s time to consider what new pieces of software that are becoming popular as community pharmacies digitise.
Here are 3 different pieces of tech you could add to your stack to boost your productivity and services:
1. Communication applications
With an integrated chat function, you can enable customers to speak directly to you and your pharmacists, and ask questions about medications or services. This could look like a chatbot application on your website or app, using social media platforms’ private messaging functions—though this is not the most secure option—or integrating with services like WhatsApp, Telegram or Signal.
2. Appointment booking platforms
Most if not all community pharmacies need a robust booking system now to manage appointments for patients across a range of services, whether it’s Covid or flu vaccinations, or basic health screenings. Booking solutions are great for boosting efficiency and reducing uncertainty, as customers can make and manage appointments at their leisure, and pharmacies don’t have to deal with the hassle of pre-screening or registrations.
3. Telemedicine solutions
Contactless healthcare became extremely popular due to Covid lockdowns and social distancing, which is why telemedicine is the future of healthcare. With telemedicine solutions, you can connect directly to your patients over secure video calls, and seamlessly manage their health remotely.
6 questions to ask before you get started
There’s a lot to think about when it comes to building your community pharmacy’s tech stack, as well as a wealth of options to choose from, so it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. Before you start, it’s crucial to make an accurate assessment of what your goals, needs and resources are to make sure you are getting the most value out of your investment.
Here are 6 questions to think about as you plan your tech stack:
Who are your customers, and what are their needs?
If the majority of your customers are not smartphone-savvy and prefer in-person interaction, it simply isn’t worth it to build out a sophisticated digital system with all the bells and whistles. Look at who is visiting your pharmacy or using your services, or even consider running a simple survey to find out who you are trying to serve.
What are your business goals?
Are you trying to cut costs or increase efficiency? Do you want to launch new services such as vaccinations and health screenings? All projects need a clear goal to ensure success, and digitalising your systems is no different. When you are able to pinpoint what the ultimate goal of your tech stack is, then you will be able to make important decisions as to what you need or don’t need.
How much resource can you devote to building out this tech stack?
Let’s be honest, not everyone can afford to invest in the fanciest piece of tech out there, and it’s not worth sinking resources into something that might only bring marginal benefits. Ask yourself (and be honest!) about what your constraints are in terms of your budget, and how that fits against your business needs. Will you have to hire someone to maintain your tech stack? How much time will it take to onboard a new platform?
Does your system add to your cybersecurity or detract from it?
It’s crucial to remember that your systems must stay secure, especially when dealing with sensitive patient information or “special category data” in GDPR speak. Before adding any new softwares, make sure they are GDPR compliant, and have a strong approach to cybersecurity. You may even want to consider investing in a software that comes already-integrated with strong cybersecurity features.
Do you have to work around legacy systems?
Don’t be fooled by how old a piece of tech is–existing software and systems are a major reason why many digitalisation projects fail. Take stock of what software or platforms you are currently using, and assess whether your tech needs a total overhaul or a minor upgrade. Can you consider investing in a solution that digitalises one specific workflow rather than replacing the entire system? Don’t forget to factor in the time, effort and resources needed to integrate or work around your legacy systems.
What is the future of technology in the pharmacy industry?
Not all bleeding edge tech will definitely impact every industry, but it’s worth asking yourself where the industry is collectively moving towards. If your competitors are adopting technology that makes them faster, more efficient and profitable, then you can’t afford not to. On the other hand, if something feels like a gimmick, it’s worth taking that second look to make sure.
Stand out online and offline
HasHealth offers pharmacies the tools they need to take appointments online, send out pre-appointment health questionnaires, manage customer records, and more. Book a call to learn how we can help you deliver a better customer experience.
Header image by Chris Ried and Carlos Musza on Unsplash