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John King CEO OmniSYS
by John King

Whatever technology you invest in, it should enable a personalized and cohesive brand experience that enables you to engage patients on their terms.

ADVOCATES OF RETAIL pharmacy often reference the fact that 96% of Americans live within five miles of a local pharmacy — the inference being that physical proximity provides convenience and ready access to quality, affordable healthcare. And while this may be true, it masks an emerging issue that pharmacies must address if they want to remain competitive and thrive in the future. That issue is the changing nature of how consumers define convenience.

A VIRTUAL STOREFRONT IS THE NEW STANDARD OF CONVENIENCE


Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers have shown an increased desire to shop, interact, and make purchases online. Consider the fact that the compounded annual growth rate of e-commerce in retail pharmacy is 17.3%, compared to an industry growth rate of a mere 2.7%. Consumers are no longer “voting with their feet,” they’re voting with their thumbs! People are increasingly turning to digital storefronts as their first choice for convenience. And if these trailing indicators alone don’t convince you, consider the impact of high-speed networks.

Experts forecast that by 2025, half of North America’s mobile connections will be running on 5G. Why does this matter? It matters because they’re fast! 5G networks support data transfer rates of up to 100 megabits per second (Mbps). To put that into perspective, that is 2.7 times faster than today’s 4G networks. This will not only accelerate the adoption of mobile technology and digital communications, it will also fundamentally change how we use that technology to share information and conduct business.

The virtual pharmacy, while always important, has now become critical. Your patient’s digital experience may be their only interaction with your pharmacy in the months ahead. And with consumers facing so many options to get their prescriptions, how can you create a digital experience that sets you apart and creates a strong sense of patient loyalty?

Read on to learn more about key emerging trends and how pharmacies can leverage them to thrive in our increasingly digital age.

IT’S TIME TO LEAVE PAPER BEHIND


I’m going to start with the simplest recommendation from a technology standpoint but one that also tends to challenge us the most in healthcare — our continued reliance on paper. While many functions in the pharmacy have become digital, there are still a few key paper-based processes that can have a negative impact on your patient’s experience.

Take immunizations, for example. Your patients are likely still filling out consent forms using a clipboard and pen. These paper forms not only cost you time and money to manage, store, and share with others, they are also inconvenient for your patients. And while paper forms may have been considered a minor inconvenience six months ago, now some patients may choose to walk away altogether instead of touching a shared surface. Thankfully, there are solutions available today that can integrate within your workflow and make the entire process digital. Move your consent forms and other patient documentation online, and let patients complete them on their own mobile device or tablet. This will not only put their minds at ease, it will also save you time and money.

MAKE IT PERSONAL


If you have ever watched “The Terminator” movie, you know that it’s only a matter of time before computers take over. All kidding aside, machine learning technology is not a threat. It is the driving force behind how you can make messaging with your patients more personal.

In a recent study from Accenture, 91% of consumers say they are more likely to shop with brands that provide relevant offers and recommendations. So what does it mean to personalize communications in the context of pharmacy? It’s about having the ability to target specific audiences, create relevant content, and make better recommendations in order to build deeper relationships. It’s more than sending a patient a birthday text or simply providing refill reminders. It’s about making patients aware of pharmacy services that are relevant to them based on their unique health conditions.

For example, when a diabetic patient is refilling a prescription, you should proactively inform him or her about any DMSE (diabetes self-management education) support or counseling that your pharmacy offers. Or let patients know that they should consider getting immunized for PHEUMOVAX 23 based on known gaps in their immunization history.

Patient communication technology should do more than simply answer your phones or send out text reminders. The right technology partner can, and should, help you stand apart from the competition and personalize your patient’s experience.

VOICE ASSISTANTS ARE THE FUTURE


The utilization of digital voice assistant technology (i.e., “Hey Google” or “Alexa”) is growing at an exponential rate and well on its way to becoming the preferred user interface for virtual communication. In fact, this year, 50% of all internet searches are forecasted to be voice initiated, and by 2022, 55% of all U.S. households will leverage this technology, creating a $40 billion industry.

Market data shows that consumers are rapidly adopting voice assistant technology, although pharmacies are not yet capitalizing on it. But this will change, because voice assistant technology is an ideal solution for the pharmacy consumer. Natural language processing allows people to engage the “virtual pharmacy” on their terms, phrasing questions and requests in a way that makes sense to them and not having to follow the structured workflow of an IVR (interactive voice response) or be constrained by a limited set of SMS (short message service) text responses.

Voice assistants in pharmacy will ultimately give patients the ability to securely access, review, and request medications in real time. As you consider replacing your IVR or telecom infrastructure, ensure that you’re investing in a platform that will support new trends in communication.

THE TAKEAWAY


Convenience is no longer about physical proximity. As you contemplate strategies to win and retain pharmacy customers, you need to think about your virtual storefront. Whatever technology you invest in, it should enable a personalized and cohesive brand experience that enables you to engage patients on their terms. CT

John G. King is the CEO of OmniSYS. You can learn more about OmniSYS at omnisys.com or on Twitter or LinkedIn.