Pharmacists as guides

Digital technologies create many opportunities for pharmacists.

Research project by the University of Osnabrück

Will the pharmacies of today still exist in 20 years' time? Or will the distribution of medication be completely transformed into an internet-based system and thus cause the demise of local pharmacies in the future? These are the questions many pharmacists ask themselves. Many pharmacists have long since made their decision and, in addition to their over-the-counter pharmacy, have also started their own mail-order business, for example via Amazon.

The University of Osnabrück is addressing this issue scientifically to find out what changes the local pharmacy must undergo in order to stay competitive in the future. In cooperation with the Pharmacists' Association Westphalia-Lippe e.V. and the Euregio health region, the Department of Business Accounting and Business Informatics (UWI) is carrying out research regarding the “Pharmacy 2.0” project in the Steinfurt pilot region.

The result is clear. Prof. Dr. Frank Teuteberg, project leader, says, summarising the findings so far, that “the over-the-counter pharmacy still has a future”, but “it is recommended to use the potential of digital technologies.” Especially pharmacies in structurally weak areas and in rural areas will benefit from the findings of “Pharmacy 2.0”.

Digital health care technologies. This includes a modern stock management system for medications, preferably with automated dispensing directly at the workstation. On the hand, the electronic medical record and e-prescription will not only alter the processes in the pharmacy, but also the role of pharmacists (see also e-prescription).

Pharmacists provide guidance

“Pharmacists can become guides,” says Christian Fitte. He, together with the research assistant Alina Behne, is in charge of conducting studies and implementing project contents. “As experts, pharmacists can support patients with advice and information, whilst also streamlining inter-sectoral coordination and cooperation between healthcare stakeholders.” In addition to doctors, Fitte also considers care homes to be experts.

According to the scientists, personal contact with patients is important in order to be such a guide. It may lead to the provision of pharmaceutical care if necessary, and may even be provided by video call in the future.

This opens up new service opportunities to create sustainable customer relationships. For example, this includes a delivery service, which is based on “intelligent, digitally supported route planning” (Fitte). Such a service is not only attractive for those who need care and are not very mobile. People, impeded from coming to the pharmacy personally due to professional or family commitments, would also appreciate such an offer and would probably pay accordingly.

Digitisation allows new services to be offered

According to the researchers, pharmacists, just like doctors, will be able to tailor their services to the needs and genetic characteristics of the patients. Experts refer to this as stratification. The so-called tubular blister packs, which are individual packages with daily medication supplies, are already an example of this trend. For patients requiring care or who are chronically ill, this service could be supplemented by automated ordering processes. If the supply is low, an automatic message can be generated to remind patients or nurses to get a new prescription.

The researchers also believe that interdependency checks for customers might also be another service that could be offered. These checks could easily be carried out on the basis of the medication prescriptions by the doctors and the databases of the manufacturers. “This could increase the safety of the medical treatment,” explains Alina Behne. This service could be complemented by medication monitoring over the phone or through an app.

The fitness trackers, which are increasingly popular, also provide an interesting business model for pharmacists. “The data generated by the trackers can be evaluated for the customers and individual nutritional plans can be created, medical interdependencies can be identified or abnormalities in important parameters can be detected at an early stage”, says Alina Behne. The same applies to the health data of the patient. “We expect that those who are insured will stay in control of their data”, says Teuteberg. And Behne adds, “they can share some of this data with their pharmacist for further analysis. The pharmacist can then offer advice for a healthy lifestyle based on this data.”