Digitalising UK Pharma

As consumers, we have been driven to adapt and change our behaviour for the world of ecommerce. Not just for the things we want, but now it is changing for the things we need. Drugs.

The sector for online pharmacies has seen considerable growth. An early adopter was Pharmacy2U who set up shop in 1999. In a highly regulated market, the business was able to implement a model for repeat prescriptions. Patients enter their symptoms/prescription requirements in an online questionnaire and an online-only GP consultant assesses them and authorises the relevant prescription for repeat dispensing. Today, the Company provides more than 100,000 patients with over 200,000 items a month directly through the letterbox.

This model helps to facilitate the digitalisation of the NHS thought its Electronic Prescription Service (EPS). Electronic prescriptions are sent from GP surgeries to pharmacies. It is increasingly popular and is likely to replace traditional paper prescriptions altogether. NHS England 2019 projected a 30% reduction in errors through EPS and 67% of prescriptions are now sent through EPS. This will transform how prescriptions are handed over to patients.

The change in behaviour is driven by three key factors:

  • People using the internet to help manage their health and wellbeing
  • The UK’s ageing population where people are living with long-term conditions 
  • Those at risk do not wish to mingle with others in these Covid times and there are turning to digital solutions which deliver to their door

Services such as Babylon and other digital GP services have gone mainstream. Patients are no longer willing to wait for a 10 minute slot at their local GP surgery. The Covid pandemic has only accelerated the use of such services. Hence, it only makes sense for such apps to team up with online pharmacies to provide patients with a seamless service of assessment and medicine delivery, This creates an efficient care ecosystem providing imminent care in an area which could be time sensitive. For the NHS, this creates less pressure for GPs.

All in all, a win-win? Maybe not for bricks and mortar community pharmacies, but their role is likely to change. They may become the first port of call for patients discharged from hospitals to help reduce readmissions.

Digital pharmacies are likely to grow rapidly impacting stock requirements month by month impacting working capital and if not careful, cash flow could hinder the business. If this is a space you are thinking of entering, we may be able to help secure funding to facilitate the market opportunity. We would be happy to talk through solutions available in the market.

“A digital pharmacy can grow very quickly and might require twice or three times the volume of drugs that they needed in the previous month as they grow. For those that are successful, the more they expand, the more likely that growth constraints will kick in”

By Mihir Shah on 30/10/2020