Priceline Pharmacy Karingal Hub is in the community shopping centre in Frankston, Victoria. As the pharmacy diligently considered and planned a major refit in mid-2019, automation was a key design inclusion in the planning process. COVID-19 and the extended Victorian lockdowns have severely impacted pharmacy without doubt. However, one unwavering element has been a clear customer-first mandate of all staff. It was a pleasure to speak with Julie and Loc Tran recently as I invited them to share a little of the vital role automation plays in their customer-first model.
Editor – Could you share your community pharmacy background and journey in brief?
Julie – We took over our pharmacy in 2012 following the closure of the previous banner group. We ultimately chose the Priceline model when refitting in 2019 as my husband and I felt the group was reputable, current and relatable to our clientele whilst still allowing us to remain competitive with the big discounters. Importantly, the customers really like our pharmacy, the branding appeals to our customers and our staff enjoy the layout and functionality of the pharmacy.
Editor – What elements were considered when planning your fit-out?
Julie – We felt the franchise group model was progressive and delivered operational best practice as these were two non-negotiables for our future. We considered the role of our pharmacists and the importance of forward dispensing. These were important elements as the access to the pharmacist is paramount while the layout, overall flow and customer journey needed to reflect this effectively and efficiently.
Editor – Working with a smaller floorspace than your previous pharmacy, did you have any concerns accommodating automation in your pharmacy model due to size restraints?
Julie – The key element for our pharmacy is implementation and positioning the customer at the core of everything our team do. As a pharmacist, I believe there is little value in graduating from pharmacy armed with all this knowledge and focus on primary health care only to be insulated behind a dispensary counter completely removed from the customer. Although our new pharmacy is considerably smaller, it never feels claustrophobic and the layout flows effectively allowing our pharmacists to always be at the forefront engaging with the patients at every encounter The size of the robot is perfect for our script volume and our staff and customers have embraced the model with ease.
As owner operators, Loc and I believed that it was our responsibility to prove that the forward dispense model would work in our pharmacy. We were realistic that it wasn’t going to be easy to change the way pharmacy traditionally operated and that both staff and customers needed to be ‘re-trained’ and as enthusiastic about this model as much as we were.
We knew we had our work cut out for us in order to successfully introduce this new complete forward dispense model in our pharmacy. In the early stages, we worked hands on with the team to ensure that both our team and customers were able to efficiently and effectively navigate the new process. We ensured that we were whole heartedly involved in the delivery of this journey of complete patient-pharmacist engagement to show the team that it would actually work and patient satisfaction could always be achieved.
Editor – With automation in place, what have been the key benefits for your pharmacy?
Julie – The most beneficial is customer engagement. Our floor plan is not cluttered with counters, and customers come straight to the counter and are able to engage and be counselled by the pharmacist each visit. Sometimes there are things that you can pick up from a customer by handing out a repeat script and speaking with them rather than asking our assistants solely to do that job.
Further, the quality of health care has improved as the pharmacist is more accessible, and any question or concern is answered with ease by our staff. While the workload for the pharmacist is greater, I think the customer satisfaction and staff engagement is immeasurable. The customer is our priority, and we accept the extra responsibility of being 100% available and engaged unapologetically.
Editor – How do you see the future of pharmacy blended with your fully automated model of pharmacy?
Julie – Automation will certainly underpin our future and we are excited. It has and will continue to solidify the importance of a pharmacist being a pharmacist and being at the forefront of primary healthcare services. I think honestly the COVID-19 pandemic has made this easier because we are readily available to chat with our customers.
Editor – Following the refit and the introduction of automation, what has been the response and positive impact on customers over the past 12 months?
Julie – It’s been great! We’ve been in the business for 10 years now and our customers always remark that we are a tight-knit community and healthcare provider. Automation has freed up my time to engage outside of the pharmacy with our community, even if it is chatting with a grandparent about their grandchild’s first day at preschool. You’re able to continue with your dispensing or whatever you may be doing while also engaging with the customer. I think they’re the things that build loyalty because you’re ultimately no different to any other pharmacy that they pass along the way to get to you. In terms of customer relationships, automation has improved this as we’re more available to check in on them on a regular basis and build new relationships. Whether that be the pharmacist at the back of the office or working on a different dispensing terminal, we are accessible and fully engaged at all times. In fact, following automation, our service levels have increased because even though we’ve added a robot and invested more money, we haven’t cut our staffing levels. If anything, we’ve increased our wages as the customer cannot come first if we do not have the staff and systems to ensure they are happy and have their needs met. We are excited about the future of community pharmacy in Australia and are delighted automation will be a clear deliverable in this journey for us.