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7 Ways the Internet Is Changing How You Run Your Independent Pharmacy


February 14, 2019


Inside: The internet has altered people’s expectations for everything, including independent pharmacies. Here’s how it should change your business approach. 

The internet has revolutionized nearly everything about American life. The way we handle things like shopping and healthcare is no exception. Patients have adapted, but has your pharmacy kept up with the influence the Internet has had on health care?

Here are seven ways the internet is altering the way patients address health, and how those changes affect your pharmacy business.

1. Patients are googling you

Research indicates 86 percent of consumers read reviews for local businesses. Among younger adults, these reviews are especially influential: 91 percent consumers age 18-34 trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. If you want to be their pharmacy, you have to impress their friends.

Use that insight to take control of your pharmacy’s online reputation.

These are the most important review websites your pharmacy needs to know:

 

(Learn how to earn five-star reviews).

Ask patients to review your pharmacy online
You probably already have loyal patients who’ve stuck with you for years, telling all their friends and family to switch to your pharmacy. Ask these people to turn their enthusiasm digital by posting an online review.

To get more reviews, incentivize them. Offer patients a front-end discount for leaving a review, or enter them into a drawing for a bigger prize. Consider updating your paper collateral to include a request for reviews as well.

When patients read reviews about your pharmacy’s top-notch patient care and innovative services, they’ll be more confident coming to you for all their healthcare needs.

Respond to reviews—even negative ones—professionally
It’s easy to feel defensive when you come across a negative comments about your business,  but a bad review is an opportunity. Sometimes you can correct an inaccuracy or change the reviewer’s mind. Other times, you can apologize and make it right, which publicly demonstrates your commitment to customer service.

Use these strategies to address negative reviews:

 

2. Patients are googling their symptoms

The internet has drastically changed the way patients access and evaluate health information.

According to the Pew Research Center, 72 percent of internet users say they looked online for health information in 2013. Thirty-five percent of those users said they looked online specifically to diagnose a medical condition.

This means patients often arrive at your pharmacy having already researched their symptoms. But the information they find isn’t always reliable or accurate—and it’s easy for lay people to misunderstand or misapply medical information they learn online.

You know that a thorough Google search is no substitute for four years of pharmacy school, and most reasonable patients will realize that too. But increasingly accessible health information has its benefits. Patients may now be more familiar with medical or pharmaceutical terms that average people didn’t know 20 years ago. Online resources may cause patients to seek professional attention for symptoms that they previously thought would resolve themselves.

Leverage your education and expertise to build trust as a healthcare professional. You might have to dispel myths or correct misinformation that patients learn from the internet. Make sure your patients know they can always turn to you with health-related questions.

3. Your website is your front door

Nearly two-thirds of consumers start online to learn about a store. Are they finding your pharmacy when they look? If you don’t have a website, patients won’t be able to find you. And if you have a bad website, you might wish they hadn’t found you. About 75 percent of consumers say they judge a company’s credibility based on its website.

At minimum, your pharmacy’s website should include your hours, location, and contact information. Go a step further and share a little bit about why you got into pharmacy, your history, and the work you do to support your community.

Also, include information about the services and products you offer. Make sure your website is always up-to-date with accurate, relevant, and professional-looking information, so your patients know they can rely on it as a trustworthy resource.

Consider investing in more expensive website features like online refill ordering to stay competitive with national chains and box stores.

Finally, make sure your website has a call to action. You don’t just want to inform people, you want to drive them to your business. Here are some examples of good calls to action:

 

Read more about what your independent pharmacy website should include.

4. Patients are tracking all kinds of health data

App stores are flooded with programs to help patients track everything from caloric intake to migraine frequency to how often they snore. They track periods, map runs, and even store their medical records on their phones.

Wearables like the FitBit or Apple Watch monitor heart rates, sleep, and more. In 2018, Medtronic introduced the Guardian Connect system, which lets diabetic patients monitor their blood glucose levels on their smartphone or smartwatch. About 46 million smartwatches were sold in 2018, and that number is expected to double by 2022.

This hyper awareness of their own health data could alert patients to symptoms they wouldn’t have otherwise noticed, or help them report things more accurately to pharmacists and other healthcare professionals.

On the other hand, it could lead them to overestimate the importance of small changes in their data. And the data itself isn’t always perfect—heart rate monitors fail, and patients sometimes misjudge serving sizes or forget to log data points.

Whether these devices help patients live healthier lives is probably best answered on an individual level, but one thing is for sure: patients are noticing their health metrics more than ever before. Don’t be surprised when they show up at your pharmacy armed with numbers.

5. People rely on mobile

If it doesn’t work on mobile, it doesn’t work. That’s true for your website and for the pharmacy itself. With 77 percent of Americans carrying smartphones every day, you can’t afford to ignore this platform.

Ask yourself these questions to see if you’re missing out on important mobile opportunities:

 

Look for ways to incorporate mobile that fit into your pharmacy’s budget and meet the needs of your community.

6. Services are increasingly important

The internet enables people to purchase products from any number of retailers any time of day. Your independent pharmacy isn’t competing just with stores in your town or region. It’s also competing with national chains, big-box pharmacies, and internet-based retailers like Amazon.

To stay in the game, you need to offer patients something they can’t get online. Top-notch customer service helps, but more and more e-commerce outfits are providing that as well. In-person services like immunizations, educational seminars, smoking cessation programs, can set your pharmacy apart. Be sure to promote these key services on your website.

7. Delivery is huge

The internet and the gig economy have combined to make just about anything available for delivery. Third-party services like Postmates and Door Dash will deliver takeout from restaurants that never delivered before. Grocery chains will bring your weekly necessities right to your door. Amazon Prime delivers everything from furniture to clothing to books in two days, or even within an hour in some cities.

And national pharmacy chains have recently introduced delivery services. Independent pharmacies have been delivering prescriptions for decades, and the NCPA Digest reports that 71 percent of independents offered delivery in 2017.

CVS charges $4.99 for delivery through the mail, which takes at least a day. For same-day delivery—which is only available in six cities—the fee is $8.99. Those are prices and timelines many independent pharmacies can compete with.

Make sure patients know about your delivery options. Featuring delivery information prominently on your website and social media will help you reach potential patients who may not have visited your pharmacy yet. Read more about how to highlight your delivery service.

As the internet continues to become more and more pervasive in the lives of patients, your pharmacy will need to adapt to meet changing expectations.  


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