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Pricewatch Praise Shocker

By Fintan Moore - 01st Dec 2022

community pharmacy
Neighborhood pharmacy building for prescriptions and medical assistance.

It was nice for once to see a benevolent mention in the consumer press than the usual negative narrative about community pharmacy

The relationship between community pharmacy and the various consumer champions in the media has generally been fairly straightforward, namely that they would like to carpetbomb us out of existence, or at least out of financial viability. Like most commentators who reside safely on the ditch they don’t always bother too much with nuance, balance or even inconvenient things like facts. The ditch is a nice sheltered ecosystem, and it was funny to watch a few years ago when Eddie Hobbs left it to try his luck in the tougher environment of the real world as a property investor. Mind you, the poor saps that put their faith in him had little to laugh about at the end. Notso-fast Eddie was one of the originals, but there’s never been a scarcity of journalists trying to save the public from blood-sucking pharmacists.

So it was nice for once to see us get a benevolent mention from Conor Pope in The Irish Times Pricewatch column when the 2022 CXi ‘Customer Experience Report’ was issued. The report is compiled each year by the company CX, and assesses customer satisfaction with various companies and organisations. In first place was the Credit Union network, but remarkably, out of a list of 150 companies there were four pharmacy chains in the top 19. The four were Hickeys, McCauleys, Life, and Boots. That’s a pretty good return considering the usual negative narrative about community pharmacy, so there’s clearly a disconnect between the consumer journalists and the actual consumers, or more accurately in most cases, patients.

There are a lot of capable and helpful individuals within the HSE, so it makes you wonder what might be achievable if the HSE was reformed enough to let it make our job easier rather than harder

There’s another interesting feature of the report, which is that the HSE is one of the organisations listed. Unsurprisingly, it ranks down near the bottom of the pile in 128th place, kept company by the likes of the notorious Dublin Airport Authority (130th), Ryanair (133rd) and UPS (124th). So one of the worst performing bodies in terms of service provision is the HSE, which is also the organisation that pharmacists are fundamentally dependent on to stay in business. Every single day we are required to provide an appropriate level of ‘consumer experience’ aka ‘patient care’, which we are clearly doing, but to do so we have to work with the obstacles and constraints created by the HSE. There are a lot of capable and helpful individuals within the HSE, so it makes you wonder what might be achievable if the HSE was reformed enough to let it make our job easier rather than harder.

NEEDLE WORK

The pun is unintentional (honestly), but a sticking point for a lot of pharmacists assessing the viability of providing a flu vaccination service in previous years was the requirement to have a shelf load of adrenaline pens on standby. The expense of this was enough to deter some from getting involved, so it’s good from a financial point of view, as well as a clinical one, that adrenaline ampoules are now the preferred option. The obvious drawback (again, pun not intended) is that using an ampoule is a bit more fiddly than using a pen given the extra steps involved, but this gets easier with practice.

Obviously, the chances of needing to use an adrenaline ampoule for real are vanishingly small, but an almost identical process is used for a vitamin B12 ampoule. So it’s worth considering the advantages of offering B12 injections as a service in the pharmacy. It lets you practise a potentially life-saving skill, negates the requirement to retrain annually on the relevant technique, gives the patient a convenient location to get the injection, and takes pressure off our over-stretched GP surgeries. The price you charge for the service is naturally up to you to decide, but it should be enough to make it worthwhile.

HUBBLE KERFUFFLE. TOIL AND TROUBLE

 I was chatting to a friend of mine recently who works in software development about the problems that arise when the software systems are designed by people who will never actually be using them in their day-to-day lives. This differs hugely from other examples of product design such as cars, because car-designers are actually cardrivers so they know what they’re trying to achieve. My software-developer friend reckons that it should be a requirement for anybody who develops a system to be compelled to use it for a couple of hundred times to identify the irritating steps that could be smoothed out – in pharmacy we see these inefficiencies all day every day in our dispensing systems.

The other system we have to use is the ‘High Tech Hub’, which has a couple of frustrating aspects. One of them is that we are required to check in high-tech stock as it arrives, but the process to do that is unnecessarily slow because we need to click into each order one at a time to confirm receipt. The other bugbear is that when there is a problem with an order that unexpectedly results in a ‘PCRS review’ we don’t get any email notification to warn us, so oftentimes we only become aware of the issue when the stock doesn’t come in. Neither of these problems should exist if the system had been designed with the users, and our patients, in mind.

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