One of the biggest areas of concern for pharmacies today is dealing with staff shortages, a problem plaguing most countries especially in light of Covid-19.
In places like the United States, the United Kingdom and Ireland, the vast majority of major pharmacy chains, hospitals, and independent businesses are finding it challenging to deal with widespread staff shortages. This is partly due to the spread of the highly-contagious Omicron variant of the Covid-19 virus, which has sickened large portions of healthcare workers.
However, Covid has only exacerbated pre-existing skills shortages. The United Kingdom and Ireland have long registered a decline in pharmacy graduates, while in late 2021, the British Home Office placed pharmacists on its “shortage occupation list.”
This is all occurring as pharmacies have become more important in community healthcare than ever before, as many take part in national vaccine programmes. In the US, some estimate that 2 out of every 3 shots takes place in a pharmacy.
Staff shortages threaten opening hours
The staff shortage is having a major effect on the health of communities as patients endure long waits for their medications and vaccine appointments, and in some exceptional cases, misdiagnoses.
Pharmacies warn that things could worsen as staff shortages for them to shorten operating hours and reduce their roster of services to cope. Irish pharmacies, in particular, are especially vulnerable to this because they are not legally allowed to operate without the presence of a certified pharmacist.
Covid aside, the Irish Pharmacy Union points to another problem impacting staffing challenges: excessive paperwork. According to a recent report by the union, “excessive bureaucracy and unnecessary regulations” are disincentivising new graduates from entering the field.
In particular, respondents said they were turned off by the amount of paperwork and compliance requirements that form the bulk of their work. Around 98% said they spent too much time on paperwork, time that could otherwise be spent with patients.
“Bureaucracy and red tape”
It’s not just paperwork that takes up a large portion of pharmacists’ time.
One study found that clinical pharmacists spent 41% of their time on administrative tasks, while another reports that healthcare professionals are spending “twice as many hours” on non-intervention tasks than they are seeing patients.
If you take a look at a breakdown of their time, you’ll find that aside from advising patients and prescribing medicines, a significant portion of pharmacist’s daily tasks include tedious jobs like helping patients register their personal information, managing retail inventory and sales, answering phone calls, manually booking appointments, and other administrative tasks like maintaining electronic health records.
It’s not to say that these are unimportant tasks, but they’re not making full use of a pharmacist’s skills, and could lead to further frustration down the line.
A vital timesaver for pharmacies
As part of its recommendations, the IPU report points to the potential of digitalised systems to eliminate a large portion of the administrative burdens placed on pharmacists.
For example, a digital booking system could take away the tedious task of manually booking a vaccine appointment by placing the power in the hands of patients. Conversely, pharmacists can then focus on more value-add services like offering medical advice, or helping patients manage their medications. This is important as services make up an increasingly large portion of pharmacies’ role in the wider market.
The move towards digitised platforms can become vital for pharmacies as a way to cope with staff shortages. In a data survey by HasHealth, we found that by digitising and automating processes like patient questionnaires for health screenings, pharmacies were able to save as much as 10 to 15 minutes per appointment.
Those handfuls of minutes add up: imagine you had six appointments in a day, and by using a medical billing system, you were able to save off 1.5 hours. Those are another 1.5 hours that you could be spending on work that drives more return on investment and work satisfaction.
Streamlining for better customer satisfaction
In the context of small, community pharmacies that generally have fewer resources to spend, staff wages tend to be a high cost. With a digital platform, individual pharmacists can handle a wider variety of tasks with comparatively little time and effort, and the pharmacies themselves have less pressure to hire more staff.
From a customer perspective, reducing operational lags with digitised platforms can also have a major impact on their experience. By streamlining much of the customer journey — from looking for a pharmacy with the right services or goods, booking an appointment and making payments — pharmacies can cut down on waiting times and the cognitive stress of making a decision. This leads to better experiences and more loyalty towards a particular community pharmacy.
Finally, in the face of the highly contagious Omicron variant, digitised systems could reduce the risks of infection by allowing more services to go remote, and protecting staff from exposure to infected customers.
Next, we’ll briefly look at some examples of how digital systems can create operational time-saving for pharmacies.
1. Registering new patients
Filling up forms is probably the one task that everyone has done at last once in their life — now imagine doing that 12-20 times a day for patients walking in and out of your store. By digitising the registration process, pharmacists can offload that task for patients to do before coming to the store, or even when they arrive.
For even more convenience, the registration form could also be linked to a larger customer management platform that saves each patient’s information for use later.
2. Reporting requirements
Healthcare is inherently a bureaucratic business because of its life-or-death stakes. As such, the need for reporting requirements for pharmacies are expanding, leading to more administrative work for pharmacists. A simple yet fully-integrated reporting system could free up pharmacists from an otherwise tedious task.
3. Making bookings for appointments
Vaccine rollouts all over the world are taking place in pharmacies, and most are requiring appointments to manage the strong demand. By digitising bookings, pharmacies don’t have to worry about manually managing their calendars, and instead empower patients to pick available time slots that fit their schedule.
This could eliminate much of the conversational back-and-forth that might otherwise take place on a phone call or in-person. Patients could also cancel or reschedule their appointments, thus enabling pharmacists to make the most of their time to focus on actually administering the shots.
Do more with digital
HasHealth offers pharmacies the tools they need to save time and costs with the help of digitised services. Book a call to learn how we can help you deliver a better customer experience.
Unsplash images coutesy of Hennie Stander, Lukas Blazek and the National Cancer Institute.