Lately pharmacies have been on the front line of supporting patient health while working to avoid putting patients and staff at risk. Perhaps the most visible change has been the growth in patient demand for ways to receive prescriptions without entering a store. Pre-COVID, just two to three percent of groceries were ordered online for home delivery. That number has now jumped past 30% and prescription deliveries are following suit.
In this article, I explore how pharmacy chains have moved quickly into outside-the-store distribution channels – delivery, curbside and contactless pickup, lockers, mail order and others – and discuss considerations for pharmacies that may want to add these services.
Since the onset of the pandemic, our data at mscripts have shown a significant jump in both patient demand for outside-store distribution channels and pharmacy operational capacity. One large retailer rolled out delivery to over 500 new locations, nearly doubling their delivery footprint over the past month, and delivered over 30,000 prescriptions in the first quarter. At the time of this writing, they are making almost 1,000 prescription deliveries per day. Other retailers are seeing rapid growth in their mail order business, with shipping volume increasing up to 400% since January of 2020 and peaking in April.
What considerations should a pharmacy take into account when activating these new distribution channels?
The process requires several different pieces to work together to provide patients and pharmacies an efficient and valuable service.
- There are multiple services and methods to choose from when considering who to partner with, from delivery services to curbside pickup, lockers, or even drone or robot. Make sure the existing pharmacy technology platforms are able to integrate with the desired distribution channels.
- Patients will expect to be able to pay for their medications online – and have that action be integrated with the pharmacy prescription management system and the point of sale system. It’s important that the system hold off on processing payment until the script has been picked up by the delivery service. Just like any other ecommerce transaction, It’s also important to be able to show the patient how much a delivery or shipment will cost them, so be sure they can see and pay for both the script and the cost of delivery during the checkout process.
- When evaluating a solution, make sure it is flexible enough to address the needs of the pharmacy. It should allow management to configure various options to fit pharmacy operations. Does a pharmacy require signature capture for the delivery of prescriptions? How will the pharmacy handle the need to counsel the patient and record the interaction? What happens if the patient is not home when the medication is delivered?
- Pharmacies likely won’t want to offer their entire catalogue for delivery due to regulatory restrictions and physical limitations of some compounds. A outside-store distribution solution needs to disallow delivery for certain medications, like refrigerated items, syrups or creams, so be sure that it is easy to create a “do not deliver” list.
- Outside-store distribution options are best presented to the patient in the context of their regular, trusted pharmacy communication (such as text or app), ideally as part of the refill reminder or order ready notification. Doing so ensures the experience is seamless and allows patients to easily see that their pharmacy offers this essential service.
- Whether delivery, curb-side pickup, or mail order, patients expect to get regular updates on the status of their order. It’s important to think through how they will receive notifications that the prescription is leaving the pharmacy and arriving at their home, and to be sure the technology solution supports this type of messaging.
If 2019 was the year where prescription delivery was a “would be nice,” then 2020 is the year where it is a “must have.” While the country is starting to raise shelter-in-place protocols, many experts believe that there will be on-going cycles of loosening and tightening restrictions. Investing in a outside-store distribution solution now will prepare pharmacies to weather future periods of restriction. Personally, I believe that patients will continue to demand this level of service from their pharmacies far past the conclusion of this pandemic.
There is a growing consensus in our industry that the game has changed. Those that use this crisis as an inflection point to jump into the future will be all the better positioned once the dust clears.
Martin Schwartz is the Vice President of Product at mscripts. Learn more about how mscripts can help your pharmacy implement an outside-the-store solution.