It’s time independents took business management seriously, argues Mukesh Lad

Every industry from finance to retail has completely embraced technology in all its forms and at all levels… Well, almost everyone. While on the broader healthcare horizon there has been noticeable progress in the last two or three years, community pharmacy, and especially the independent sector, just doesn’t seem to understand the need. To be honest, we’ve all been ridiculously slow to engage in all aspects of how to run a modern business, whether by investing in IT or up-skilling our workforce in the basics of business process.

Independent owners need to take their business management seriously. We have to join the digital world and invest in its agenda. As pharmacy owners, we cannot succeed unless we, and our workforce, have an acceptable level of competence in the basic business tools that are Word, Excel and email. We need to use all the information around us to benefit our business. Communicating with standard business tools is critical in achieving this.

Point of no return
We have to stop feeling ‘bombarded’ by the emails, deadlines and audits required of us. Everyone else makes the necessary adjustments and get on with the changes. The fundamental problem is independent pharmacy doesn’t know how to cope with it. There’s absolutely nothing to gain, other than a bad reputation, by feeling ‘overwhelmed’. Every successful business will find itself in this position at some stage of its evolution. Unless we learn to use technology in the way in which it’s intended, our pharmacies will fall below acceptable business standards and this will herald the point of no return.

What most independents have stubbornly resisted is the need for a practice manager. The demands of compliance and regulation are such that we need a dedicated administrator. At a time when funding is curtailed and many don’t feel comfortable investing in additional staff, independent owners therefore need to be competent in their use of key software packages that have been created specifically to manage small and medium-sized businesses.

Month-end processes can be streamlined by maximising the use of the pharmacy PMR system. We all have a wealth of important and accurate data within our pharmacy system and, what’s more, it can be easily reconciled with PPA statements. It’s time to stop ignoring the facilities we have at our fingertips by simply saying ‘I don’t have time’. The only person that’s listening is you. The reality is you don’t have time partly because you’re spending so much time on processes that could take a fraction of the time. (There is added value in taking the time to learn – by simple data reconciliation you can very quickly ensure you’re being paid the correct amount of money at the end of each month.)

Greater efficiencies
Integration into hub-and-spoke technology will create a huge impact on dispensing efficiency. With an ever-aging population and rising co-morbidities, prescription volume is set to increase yearon- year. Whether managing MDS trays or dispensing repeat prescription calendar packs, you will achieve increased output, greater efficiency and a reduction in staffing costs. Smart owners will re-deploy dispensing staff. There’s a huge benefit in creating a customer engagement role, or business development support, and of course, who better to become the administrator that I was talking about earlier?

Critical to the efficient use of your digital tools is good connectivity and hardware. There’s no escaping the future use of NHS mail. With that comes greater data security and a much better reputation for your pharmacy. There are still many pharmacy owners that survive with the popular free online email providers. Or worse still, those who take advantage of free software trials, which means their email address changes every few months. Come on you late adopters! You’re running a business that needs a far superior reputation than a Hotmail account!

I have absolutely no doubt about every independent owner’s skills as a pharmacist. But this is no longer enough. The NHS cut loose community pharmacy some three years ago. That was the point at which we all became independent business owners providing pharmacy services under contract to the NHS. And we need to look after our clients well. For pharmacy, to lose the NHS as its client would be corporate suicide.

It’s a good idea to have a conversation with your PMR provider. Find out more about their future plans to support community pharmacy development. Is their focus on robot technology? Perhaps they’re looking to promote the integration of pharmacy and General Practice PMR technology? Most importantly, however, you should review your own capabilities and be honest about the skills you’re lacking. There’s a wealth of information available throughout our industry publications, suppliers and the upcoming Pharmacy Show; but don’t be tempted by the latest ‘must-haves’ until you’ve got your basic capabilities up to speed.

It’s time to evaluate your appetite for becoming a successful business owner as opposed to continuing as a pharmacy owner struggling to achieve efficiency and sustainability? Independent pharmacy ownership is no longer a service provider but a serious business.

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