4 February 2016

With changes ahead putting pressure on the traditional pharmacy model, Ainslie Chemmart Compounding Pharmacy’s Colette Needham is embracing the challenges by getting out from behind the counter and positioning the pharmacy as an all round destination for health and wellbeing.

Getting out from the dispensary and on to the floor of her busy Canberra pharmacy engaging with customers was a challenging concept at first but one that has made pharmacist Colette Needham’s work even more rewarding.

“It’s a change of mindset,” says Needham, who operates the Ainslie Chemmart Compounding Pharmacy. “It’s a hard concept at first, the idea of coming out from behind that physical barrier. But if you’re just behind the counter dispensing scripts you don’t know what’s going on with your customers’ health. Getting out there and talking to them is very professionally rewarding and very interesting.”

The pharmacy’s ‘pharmacist on the floor’ concept – always having a pharmacist out front in the store and available to customers – is just one part of a strategy to evolve the business model of the pharmacy and ensure its financial sustainability in the face of the challenges confronting the sector.

Needham, who took over the business in the Canberra suburb 34 years ago, works closely with the business’s Pharmacy Retail Manager, Erin Pavy, whose passion for customer-focused service and innovation saw her named 2015 National Pharmacy Assistant of the Year in October.

With 22 years of pharmacy experience behind her, Pavy rejoined Needham at the Ainslie Pharmacy 15 months ago around the same time the pharmacy became part of the Chemmart group. She’s been instrumental in managing the shift in focus for the business that’s included a broadening of the practices’ services to help reduce its reliance on dispensary income.

“There have been a lot of changes in the industry and the past five years have seen the biggest changes, particularly the reforms to the PBS [Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme],” says Needham.

“We are really embracing pharmacy services – we see that as our future, not relying so much on the revenue from the dispensary. I think the community pharmacy already plays a big role in helping people look after their health and wellbeing, in preventative care. And there are big opportunities to do more in that area.”

Customer services

Pavy says her goal is for the pharmacy to be seen by customers as an “all round destination for health and wellbeing” and for its pharmacists to be recognised as accessible primary healthcare professionals. She says the key to achieving that is the promotion of the range of services the pharmacy offers such as its Health Check Program.

The program offers people a 15-minute $20 health assessment that’s being positioned as a convenient way for busy people to get a check-up. It measures blood pressure, blood glucose, waist measurement, BMI and provides customers with a report detailing any potential health risks, such as heart disease or Type 2 diabetes.

For the business that‘s always prided itself on its dedication to individual personal service, the program is a logical addition to its offering. “It’s a natural extension to looking after the customer and delivering a total package for them, not just dispensing scripts but also looking after their health,” says Pavy. “I think people today are more aware of preventative health, and this is an accessible, easy way we can help them with that.”

The latest addition to be offered at Ainslie is a genetic test, myDNA, that Needham believes will be a boon to many of her customers. myDNA is a one-off, pharmacogenomic test that identifies gene variants in four major enzyme systems and how these genes metabolise commonly prescribed medications. The test is conducted from swabs taken from inside a person’s cheek. “It’s able to identify how an individual’s genetic structure will respond to medication which means they can be prescribed the most suitable medication at the right dosage for their body,” says Needham.

Another very popular service is a collaboration with high-profile integrative medicine doctor, Dr Sandra Cabot, who conducts fortnightly medical consultations at the pharmacy. The appointments are booked out three months in advance.

Ainslie’s ability as a compounding chemist to hand make medicines customised to individual needs also sets it apart from competitors. “One size doesn’t fit all,” says Needham. “We can compound commercially unavailable medicines, discontinued medicines, make medicines that are preservative, lactose and gluten free, capsules for vegetarians, and in various dosage forms.”

Training focus

The key to the evolution at Ainslie Pharmacy is a strong focus on staff training aimed at delivering a quality of customer service that will help differentiate the business. “I’m passionate about training for myself and my staff,” says Pavy. “I’m interested in managing a store with highly-skilled, customer service centred staff.

“If staff are well trained in something it gives them so much more confidence when they’re talking to customers, and it means they enjoy what they’re doing.

“My role in that training is also to make sure they know what the vision for the business is – how they need to do things. If everyone’s on board, we have focus and we have direction.”

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