Events of the past two years have underscored the vital role of community pharmacy in the Australian healthcare system. Pharmacists continue to deliver an essential primary health service and have tailwinds of community appreciation for the support they provided during the pandemic.
The industry is also looking at the next growth horizon, and pharmacy decision-makers are optimistic. According to the CommBank Pharmacy Insights Report1, based on the UTS Pharmacy Barometer2, confidence in the potential growth and viability of the sector is at its highest since the research began 10 years ago.
“Optimism among pharmacy businesses has continued its uninterrupted rise since 2015. Amid the disruption of the pandemic, pharmacy businesses seized an opportunity to innovate in areas from operations to business models, and that’s supporting confidence,” says Belinda Hegarty – Head of Strategy & Insights, CommBank Health.
Expansion and collaboration opportunities
The role of community pharmacy is evolving, and the diversification of professional services continues amid strong demand. Aside from two in three pharmacies participating in the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, they are expanding into aged care, disease state management and self-care, among many other areas.
Almost one in two pharmacists expect the value of their business to grow in the next year, jumping to 57% over a three-year horizon.
Luke Watson, owner of TerryWhite Chemmart in Mentone, Victoria, says, “what excites me is getting back to expanding our services over the next 12 to 18 months.”
“We do a lot of medication reviews, blood pressure monitoring and health checks. My goal is for the pharmacy to become a primary healthcare destination that keeps drawing people in even when scripts are completely ordered online, and home delivered.”
The research also shows that in the spirit of better-coordinated patient care, just over 60% of pharmacists are working with other healthcare professionals. That includes general practitioners (43%), aged care facilities (32%) and Primary Health Networks (21%). However, with more than one in three pharmacists yet to collaborate with other providers, there’s an opportunity to better integrate pharmacy into the broader healthcare system.
Keeping pace with digital disruption
Digital transformation in the pharmacy sector shows no signs of slowing. Partially due to persistent patient preferences for online services but also because pharmacists recognise a significant opportunity.
Just over six in 10 pharmacists are adapting well to technology advances that improve product and service delivery and overall business performance.
We saw the majority of pharmacists say they have adapted well to technologies that can improve product and service delivery and drive better business performance. They are also growing online sales channels and enhancing the omnichannel patient experience.
For example, 85% of pharmacies now offer home delivery, while 46% offer mobile apps. They are also among the top three sales channels, along with click and collect services, that pharmacists plan to introduce in the next 12 months.
Despite pharmacy operations and patient engagement moving online, there has only been a moderate rise in those prepared to manage the risk of a cyber security incident, now at 44% of pharmacists and up 7% year-on-year.
“Pharmacists have done a great job at utilising digital channels to reach patients and open up sales opportunities. However, as digitalisation increases across the sector, cyber security vigilance will become even more crucial,” Belinda Hegarty says.
Pharmacists are positioned for further growth in e-scripts, with most introducing new capabilities and 70% prepared for Active Script List or tokenised prescriptions.
This is particularly so given the increased use of electronic prescriptions and the associated data privacy and governance imperatives. According to the research, the majority of pharmacists plan to implement capabilities to accept scripts via email (73%), mobile app (64%), and Active Script List (ASL) (64%) over the next 12 months.
With pharmacists now able to resume a more orderly growth plan with the lessons of the pandemic in their toolkit, high confidence levels are expected to carry over the medium term. Most pharmacists expect the value of their businesses to grow over the next three years, and given their willingness and capability to adapt, the sector appears well placed to achieve it.