Pharmacists: The key to connected health
Renewing prescriptions online, sending medicine to a patient's home, prescribing health-related connected objects, today's patients except more digital services from their pharmacists. The sector will have to make up its lost ground in this domain in order to keep up with customer demands.
How advanced are pharmacies in terms of their digital transformation?Pharmacists are clearly lagging behind other retailers and
even other areas of the health sector on these issues.They really don't feel affected
by the current digital revolution. In France the sector is highly regulated and
ruled by codes concerning ethics and public health. These strict regulations also
act as barriers to newcomers wishing to enter the sector. Online sales within
the sector remain marginal in France: only 360 of the 21,600 pharmacies which
exist here are authorised to make sales online.
Why is the pharmacy sector the only one which seems to have escaped the impact of consumers' changing behaviour?Of course, pharmacies do not distribute their products in
the same way as other businesses, plus there is also the key element of advice
given by pharmacists. That said, change is inevitable. Patients are becoming
ever more mobile, as well as better informed and more connected. With Uber,
they simply order and pay for a taxi service. In order to obtain prescription
drugs or renew their prescription, however, they sometimes have to go to their
local pharmacy several times with the original prescription.
How can this lost ground be made up?Private initiatives do exist, such as the application
mapharmaciemobile ("my mobile pharmacy") created by Pharmagest, or the app
designed by the startup Pharmao. They allow patients to scan their
prescriptions and select the pharmacy from which they want to pick up their
medicine. However, this type of service is only available with pharmacies who
sign up to be clients of the service provider: a tool is needed at national
In the US, virtual pharmacies handle prescription renewals
from a distance and send the prescribed drugs in packages by post. PillPack
handles such deliveries in 49 states. This service, the cost of which is
covered by mutual health funds, implies no additional costs for the patient. It
is a valuable asset for those with chronic illnesses and those who care for
What about digitalisation in the pharmacies themselves?The first step consists in automating the back office.
Storage units can contain up to 18,000 references which are renewed twice a day
through wholesale deliveries. This means a lot of manual labour for pharmacists.
With a robot, boxes can be delivered straight to the counter
- the pharmacist no longer needs to physically go and get them. This
essentially leaves the latter to get on with the main focus of the exchange:
the patient's health. In-store delivery time is shortened meaning shorter
queues in pharmacies. Furthermore, this automation facilitates inventory-related
work, enabling stock to be maximized through better management of expiry dates,
as cut-price products don't exist.
The next step concerns digital displays. It is not enough to
simply set up a screen, a tablet PC or an electronic terminal - these devices
need to offer real content so they can be brought to life. Pharmacists need to
ask the question: how do I want patients to use these tools and what services
will be linked to them? It's a good way of breathing life into a pharmacy and
raising awareness about topical health issues - international diabetes
screening day, for example - or highlighting a particular field of expertise
within the pharmacy's team, such as orthopedics.
A digital wall also enables a pharmacy to extend its display
surface area by presenting, for example, the full range of support stockings
available, and by suggesting associated products.
And what about the sale of health-related connected objects?Pharmacists are recognised as having a legitimate status to
sell such goods. Although in France companies such as la Fnac and Orange
distribute connected objects that improve consumers' "well-being", their sales
staff do not have the necessary knowledge to give advice on how to use them in
a health-related context. The market, however, is changing. Currently demand is
still quite low - it tends to be for products with an easily identifiable use,
such as connected weighing scales or a blood sugar level reader.
The next question to ask is: will connected object
purchases be covered by social security payments one day? And, if so, and given
the plethora of objects available, under what criteria? DMD Santé and Medappcare already offer labels to
certain mobile applications - amongst the thousands which exist - which
request to be advertised as being health applications, so maybe they could adapt
their model to connected objects.