COVID-19 & Community Pharmacy: New Way of Doing Pharmacy Business

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“Many opportunities lie here to serve 200 million people across Nigeria. Within the last mile, there are problems that need fixing and each pharmacist at community level has front row seat to study them, define the causative factors, develop a likely solution or solutions and test them.”
-Mrs Abimbola Adebakin, CEO Advantage Health Africa

In a recent CNN interview, some top Nigerian executives and CEOs were interviewed to get a view of the state of their businesses during the Coronavirus pandemic. Mrs Adebakin, the CEO of Advantage Health Africa was among those interviewed and she pointed out that sales has been moving notwithstanding the pandemic, with demand for her company’s services going up by five to six times.

image of Pharmacy Shop

Advantage Health Africa is a conglomerate of a franchise chain pharmacy (myPharmacy) and an online aggregated e-commerce platform (myMedicine). Later in this article, we will discuss the business model used by Advantage Health Africa and lessons other community pharmacies can learn from their successful business strategy.

For the myPharmacy sub-brand, the business model involves a fusion of models from the financial sector and e-commerce. In a time were virtual services are being appreciated more than ever, it is not a surprise that the technology optimised pharmacy chain business is growing its customer base at a rate unimaginable to the average community pharmacist.

There has been a rallying cry all over the world for pharmacists to leverage technology and e-commerce but it has never been taken seriously until now. Pharmacists who have responded to this new demand of their dynamic profession and incorporated technology into their business models are having a field day even in the heat of the pandemic.

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Change has happened. Unfortunately, many community pharmacists are still hemming and hawing, playing the role of victims, making excuses and complaining about everything. The COVID-19 pandemic is another wake-up call to community pharmacy owners to embrace technology or be left behind.

Current Situation
There have been mass reports of reduced sales by community pharmacists although they are quick to blame everything on the pandemic absolving themselves of any responsibility.

In a crisis situation where funds are limited, customers are now price selective and would only buy if they are sure they are getting a product at the best price. Even worse, customers are less willing to spend on drugs not COVID-19 related or considered essential. F

customers are open to new channels, this is where technology comes in again.
The changing world of work is heavily influenced by technology and with the pandemic, pharmacists who have been resistant to the idea of going digital are beginning to soften their stance. It is no longer a matter of choice, the future is digital and the pharmacist must embrace it.
The community pharmacies should have multiple channels: telephone services, email services and digital messaging apps like WhatsApp and Telegram to communicate and be closer to customers.

Lessons community pharmacies can learn from myPharmacy
Leverage social capital: Communities lean on us as pharmacists to translate and communicate drug related information. It is important that community pharmacists learn to present the complex in street level terms. If you have noticed, there has been a rising trend of health influencers on social media. These influencers have mastered the art of simplifying the complex and they are using it to build trust and grow the visibility of their brands and organisations they are affiliated to.

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As healthcare professionals, we must be able to explain how drugs like furosemide work without using a term as verbose as “diuretic”. Such industry jargons may make you feel good about yourself but it does not help your patients.

The humanistic outcome of increased knowledge is as important as a positive clinical outcome.

Leverage data collection: Community pharmacists have direct access to patients which means they also have access to large amount of patients’ data. But it’s not enough to simply record data, the pharmacist should translate the data into actionable patient outcomes to optimise patient care.

Aggregation: A flexible and cost-effective practice where every participant in the supply chain takes over the information from the predecessor and supplements it with more data. Pharmacy owners who are part of an aggregate have a competitive advantage compared to fragmented pharmacies.

There is power in size and this enforces the need for pharmacists to work in collaboration and not in competition with other healthcare providers.

Adopt technology: Like it or not, technology and e-commerce have come to stay. Technology makes us faster and efficient.

“The more we resist technology, the more we are yielding our position for others to replace us”.

In the United States, when it was announced that Amazon had plans to venture into the pharmaceutical industry, pharmacists became jittery. After all, Amazon is known for their great use of technology to overcome logistics issues. With greater than 70 per cent of pharmacists in the United States still tied to dispensing medications, automation of the dispensing process would definitely put half of pharmacists out of jobs.

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While customers are adjusting to non-human service rendering, telemedicine is thriving and online drug ordering is increasing too, it only makes sense that community pharmacies that wish to remain relevant latch onto recent trends. .

Backward integration for essentials: Long ago, pharmacists were known as apothecaries/compounders. It’s true that we have moved on from that, but the question is:
“Who have we yielded the work of compounding to?
“Who is producing special flavoured syrups for children?”
“Who is providing suppositories for people who can’t stand tablets and you can’t administer injections.”

Pharmacists have abandoned compounding to the detriment of their unique position in the healthcare system.

Conclusion
As one of the most flexible sectors in the health industry, pharmacists have retained their relevance by adapting to new trends in the profession. The COVID-19 pandemic has raised the need once again for technology to be incorporated into community practice and this time, community pharmacists must respond.
If community pharmacy owners want to remain among the top players, they should quit playing the role of victims and step into the arena. They must strive while they survive.

The cheese has been moved, change has happened and community pharmacy owners must step out of their comfort zone and scurry with the cheese.

N.B. All quotes are from Mrs Abimbola Adebakin during the webinar “What if COVID-19 pandemic lasts till 2021”.

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