Muirend Pharmacy is situated on a busy thoroughfare in an affluent Glasgow suburb, four miles south of the city centre.
For owner James Mckeever, the sudden impact of the pandemic triggered a number of urgent, short-term challenges at a time when he was already wrestling with longer-term strategic questions over how to position the pharmacy for the future.
He decided to turn challenge into opportunity, installing a Pharmaself24 as part of a modernisation plan to protect the business, provide greater convenience, and open more opportunities for high-value interaction with patients.
Muirend serves a demographic that includes young professionals, but is dominated by ageing retirees, with around 80% of prescriptions made up of repeats. Over the 12 years of ownership, James has faced growing competition from local independents and, looking further ahead, expects the growth of digitally driven healthcare services to also present a threat to income and profitability.
When COVID-19 locked the nation down in March 2020, however, the pharmacy found itself facing more urgent pressures. Social distancing within the small dispensary made working conditions difficult for staff and large numbers of patients were still coming into the pharmacy, leading to queues and placing additional strain on the team. With no social media channels and a static website, lockdown also exposed the limitations of the pharmacy’s digital communication with patients.
Having seen the Pharmaself24 discussed on LinkedIn, James carried out further investigations into whether it had the potential to help resolve his problems. He quickly decided it would alleviate the immediate difficulties caused by coronavirus while offering the kind of convenience that would protect prescription volumes from competitors in the future.
The Pharmaself24 Solution
The installation of the Pharmaself24 formed part of a wider transformation of Muirend Pharmacy, which including a complete reworking of the exterior to create dynamic visual impact from the busy street outside.
Working with a project manager, James applied for and quickly received building control approval and planning permission. The Pharmaself24 team arrived at 6am on the scheduled day of installation in November and by 10am the machine was up and running, integrating smoothly with the dispensing system. Before lunch, the pharmacy team had all been trained.
The convenience of the new 24/7 collection service was promoted to the local community through social media, including targeted Facebook advertising, and patients aged 60 and below were automatically subscribed. Many had previously signed up to a prescription text alert service, so extending this to collection via the Pharmaself24 made for a seamless transition.
“COVID was the thing that really tipped us into making the decision, but going forward from this moment, we’re prepared for the likes of Amazon and for mail-order pharmacy because we’re offering that convenience.”
Although not everyone immediately grasped how the Pharmaself24 works (with some even assuming it operated like a drive-through or that a member of staff was actually inside), James says all feedback has been unanimously positive.
He has also been genuinely surprised by how eagerly it has been adopted by older patients. “The people that really wanted it were the older groups. We had under 70s and those that were 80-plus asking for their medicines to go into the robot and to give it a chance. You could never have forecast that in your planning.”
The effects are being felt among staff too, easing pressure on resource and freeing up time to focus on the pharmacy’s travel clinic and other professional services. “It’s made a huge difference in taking work pressure off the staff. That enables them to deliver a better quality of work because they’re not struggling with the high-volume dispensing process that we’re going through at the moment.”
While the urgent context of coronavirus was the catalyst for Muirend Pharmacy’s decision to invest in 24/7 collection, James says the benefits will continue to be felt in the long term.
“COVID was the thing that really tipped us into making the decision, but going forward from this moment, we’re prepared for the likes of Amazon and for mail order pharmacy because we’re offering that convenience.”
“A shift has happened, but it was going to shift anyway. We’re going to have to accept as pharmacists that things are going that way. You need an online presence. You need to try and future proof yourself as everything moves to being more digital.”