In many ways, pharmacies have moved on from their pill counting past – people now head down to their local pharmacy to receive everything from beauty makeovers and tutorials, to medical advice and support, to fresh food and drinks.
Yet, if you were to walk into a pharmacy today, you might notice a few items missing from the shelf. Hand sanitizers, soaps, antibacterial wipes, face masks and almost any sort of vitamin, for instance, sold out weeks ago, and that’s under the assumption that there’s anything left on the shelves altogether.
The Coronavirus outbreak has placed a huge amount of pressure on our pharmacies, making everyone realize just how much we depend on them. And with public health systems bursting at their seams, pharmacies are on the frontlines doing their very best to help triage the influx of incoming patients.
But in order to continue serving customers during this critical time, pharmacies will need to protect themselves first.
Pharmacies panic in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic
Since the pandemic first broke out, we’ve seen wave after wave of panic buying take place on a global scale. Supermarkets have been the hardest hit, but drug stores and pharmacies, too, have been struggling to keep up with increased customer demand. In the UK, the country’s 14,000 or so pharmacies have been flooded with customers, with some reporting as high as a threefold increase in footfall.
But what has changed recently is that customers are now stockpiling medicines rather than soaps, which could lead to delays for prescriptions during the Covid-19 outbreak.
In response to the large number of consumers that are stockpiling medicine, the Chief Executive of the UK’s National Pharmacy Association (NPA), Mark Lyonette, said:
“Please only buy the medicines you need now for you and your family; this will help to avoid creating difficulties for others, so that everyone in your community gets the medicines they need.”
Many pharmacies are doing their best to take control of the situation by placing stricter limitations on what customers can buy. Boots, for instance, has enforced a limit of two units per customer on various sterilizing products.
In the US, where the same stockpiling and panic buying behaviors are taking place, a number of pharmacists from high-profile drug store chains have raised concerns about the lack of protection they are receiving from the virus, reported the New York Post.
Several pharmacists and store associates have drawn attention to how they aren’t being provided with essentials like hand sanitizer and face masks during the outbreak, and store equipment such as keypads aren’t being deep-cleaned. One pharmacist in particular said she was worried that if an employee in her branch gets sick, “they will have to quarantine all of us and there will be no one left to work.”
Why pharmacies need to reduce footfall traffic
In the weeks and months to come, healthcare professionals will play a vital role in helping to contain and treat the virus, and should it spread further, pharmacies could easily find themselves without the support of national health systems.
As the situation worsens, pharmacies are likely to come across more worried patients with cold- and flu- like symptoms similar to those of Covid-19, according to The Pharmaceutical Journal, and the virus has a preliminary reproduction number of 1.4 – 2.5, meaning each infected individual could infect 1.4 to 2.5 people.
As pharmacists and medical centers are often the first port of call, reducing the need for patients and customers to travel into your stores is vital to stopping the virus from spreading and being able to continue serving communities.
That’s why a number of brands are taking new measures to support their customers with health concerns and isolation measures at this important time.
For example, earlier this month CVS Pharmacy announced free prescription deliveries to its customers as a way of ensuring at risk patients receive medication without having to leave their homes. A CVS spokesperson told Bloomberg that prescription delivery is up nearly 300% since the brand waived its delivery fees.
Pharmacies need remote telephone and video appointments during Covid-19
Going forward, pharmacies will need to continue supporting their customers in identifying Coronavirus symptoms while also supporting other general health needs – but this can be done without driving customers into store.
By allowing customers to book telephone and video appointments with pharmacists or store associates online via queue management and appointment scheduling software, pharmacies can provide essential support to patients remotely, like assessing if a patient’s symptoms are serious and suggesting necessary measures, or recommending medications and the easiest places to access them from.
Offering telephone and video support not only ensures the safety of your employees and your patients, it will also result in improved brand relationships through supporting customers at this important time.
When a vaccination for the virus does come about, pharmacies should also expect an acute rise in footfall and will likely need to improve their vaccination appointment scheduling and queue management solutions.
Qudini offers market leading Appointment Scheduling and Queue Management software that helps the pharmacy industry to provide premium support to their customers at the times and locations that suit them, whether over the phone, video or in-store.