Pharmacist of the 21st Century

Shortly after my graduation I was fortunate enough to get a job relatively quickly. I wished that I would get my first job opportunity somewhere outside of my home country, abroad. My wish came true and I traveled to London, where I have been working at a pharmaceutical company for almost four months now. A couple of weeks ago, I got this wonderful opportunity to participate at the European Pharmaceutical Students Association (EPSA) Annual Congress which took place in Toulouse, France. Since I had never been on a business trip, an idea of it was quite exciting and unnerving at the same time.

So I embarked on a 2 days long business trip to an unknown territory. I had never been to France before. Do you know all those stereotypes about how bad French people are in English? I expect no one to be perfect in it but since I do not speak French, English represent a language in which I try to communicate. The stereotype proved to be partially true. The first minute I set my foot outside of the airport I felt completely lost. New country, new language and English absolutely nowhere to be found. Nada. However, I managed to find my way around the city.

Let me emphasize that Toulouse is a gorgeous city! Thankfully, I had enough time on the first day to walk through the city. I was accommodated in the city center so I had an easy access to different landmarks. 

High technology has been changing the pharmacy profession in many ways and will continue to do so in the future. That was the key message I wanted to deliver to students at the European Pharmaceutical Students Association (EPSA) Annual Congress, which took place in Toulouse, France, which I attended last month as a Pharmaceutical Company representative.

Technology constantly evolves. For example, a computer you buy today might already be obsolete tomorrow. It has impacted many areas and pharmacy is no different. The point of it is to make pharmacy services even better, more efficient and patient tailored. With all the data within our reach, we as pharmacists are able to provide the patients with the best advice possible, tailored to a certain individual and medication counseling with only one purpose – to achieve the best possible outcome.

We have seen various wearable devices already on the market. Their purpose now is so much than just measuring time. They consist of different sensors, which may measure your pulse, blood pressure and different parameters of physiological and health functions. These are stored in their memory, making it available later for a user to review. That information, known as electronic health records, along with online pharmacy services (anytime purchase), location-based marketing and loyalty programs (personalization) will have an impact on logistics, services and consumer behavior. All of that will inevitably have an impact on pharmacists. One might wonder how will pharmacy work around all those advancements? Will they be its doom or an opportunity? Personally, I believe it will be the latter.

A lot of things mentioned are not really new and have been around for a quite some time. For example, Apple has just launched a new Apple Watch and it is not the first of its kind in the field of wearable technology. What exactly does this term refer to? All electronic technologies or computers that are incorporated into items of clothing and/or accessories which can be comfortably worn on the body, such as glasses, watches, clothing and jewelry. Principally, we already have a technology ready. People can look at a variety of different health conditions and monitor them. Diagnostics and condition monitoring are going to be a big thing for a pharmacy. Patients will be able to gather all the data on their current condition, let’s say their blood pressure and glucose level, using a smart watch or an app on their phone. They will be able to download and share it with their doctors or pharmacists. Patients may also get an insight into their behavior such as exercises they do and how have those affected their health. Apple’s Health App would be a good example.

Personalization is all about consumers. Some pharmacy chains are personalizing their programs depending on what consumer buys, just like the groceries stores do at the moment. Those programs are being executed in Boots chain pharmacies in the UK but that’s going to happen even more. How we see the pharmacy in the future changing is that a pharmacy will be the first point of call for all our healthcare needs. So for example if you’ve got a high blood pressure you would probably go to the pharmacy first because the GP is someone who might become more and more exclusive. Therefore, a variety of different services have been offered in pharmacies to offer a patient an advice on some core health care conditions like blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, asthma etc.

What are the other trends, which have impacted pharmacies already? Personalized programs have been mentioned earlier which have been present in different stores and pharmacy is no exception. This is particularly interesting for prescriptions. Pharmacies have different programs in place and in one of those you actually get rewarded for filling in your prescription. This is happening in the UK and US at the moment. Also, personalized medication delivery to patients’ home exists.

Another example would be augmented experience which is a fantastic technology being used in many different areas. I was fortunate enough to go to the Shopper Science Lab facility, which is being used to track shoppers’ behavior. They have a mockup pharmacy store set up (among many other things) and they perform studies to better understand consumers’ behavior and how different things impact our behavior and attract us when shopping. I was able to participate in an experiment, which included high technology goggles. Wearing them I would go from shelf to shelf and they would capture my eye movements, where I looked etc. and sent all the data to the system for researches to make sense out of it afterwards. They could also be used to deliver all the relevant information to the consumer regarding medications, helping them review dosage instructions, identify medications, or even for a targeted advertisements.

Almost everyone has an access to the Internet nowadays. We know that digital has increased transparency and patient/shopper access to information. The information is easily accessible. The question here is, what kind of information? Is the information relevant and correct? Do patients have enough knowledge to critically process and filter the information they read on certain drugs? Where was the information obtained? People love to turn to different communities (blogs) found on Internet to read about experience other people have had with a certain product. A vast majority of information they receive that way might be biased and incorrect. We as pharmacists would want to channel all that information into the right areas. However, if it were available through different blogs and communities, we would want to make sure that it is the right information available. How can we as a pharmacists influence this? AudibleRx would be a perfect example of a service, which provides relevant and useful information for the patients in a form of audio recordings on specific medications and blog. The information is double checked and critically filtered by a doctor of pharmacy for the patients to use.

Anytime Purchase is also the future. Even small pharmacies in the UK and US have their own online stores. Some services have even been shifted on-line; a patient completes the online form and based on a result, they are said to see GP or the pharmacy sends them prescription products. If you have a severe acne condition for example and you do not feel comfortable going to the pharmacy, you might just send a photo and pharmacist would provide you with a product judging by the photo and questionnaire you filled in.

Technology is one of the areas, which evolves every single day. There are lots of benefits and potential pitfalls. Yes, you might be able to do everything from the comfort of your home but we need to consider that nothing will ever replace face-to-face conversation. For the end, I strongly urge everyone to double check the information they acquire through their browsing with their respective pharmacist or doctor. We have knowledge available and are here for you to help you the best way possible.

Thank you Luka and Best of Luck with your new employment!

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