by John G. King, CEO
Sometimes crisis creates clarity. Now more than ever, pharmacies need to think about virtualizing their storefronts and effectively communicating with patients. Today’s healthcare consumer, particularly during this extraordinary time, is increasingly turning to virtual communication as their preferred method of interaction.
This isn’t to say that the days of brick and mortar are over. COVID-19 will pass, and in fact most marketing experts suggest that those brands that are able to strike the right balance between the virtual and physical consumer experience will thrive over the competition.
This is particularly true for pharmacists who are planning to offer clinical services. That said, it is undeniable that consumers are going digital. If you want to grow and thrive as a community pharmacy, you must be prepared to engage people on their terms, using their preferred mode, or more likely, modes of communication.
So, what is the best way for pharmacies to connect with their customers and what investments do pharmacies need to make in order to thrive in this increasingly digital age? To answer that question, let’s look at three big trends impacting communications.
5G is Coming
First, the adoption of high-speed networks is gaining steam and the U.S. is leading the way. Experts forecast that by 2025, half of North America’s mobile connections will be running on 5G. Why does this matter? It matters because it’s FAST! 5G networks support data transfer rates of up to 100 Mbits per second. To put that into perspective, that is 2.7x faster than today’s 4G networks. This will not only accelerate the adoption of mobile technology, but it will fundamentally change how we use that technology to share information and conduct business.
Think about the following statistics. Today, one out of five Americans are ‘smartphone only’, meaning they don’t subscribe to traditional broadband internet service. In 2019, adults in the U.S. spent on average four hours a day on their smart devices, more time than they spend watching television. Correspondingly, smartphone-based retail sales increased by almost 40 percent year over year.
Another aspect to consider is the type of content being consumed. By 2022, marketing experts forecast that video content will represent 82 percent of global internet traffic. Visual marketing is becoming a primary means of connecting with targeted audiences. The dominance of content, particularly video content, is all being made possible by the rapid growth in high-speed networks.
The internet of things is growing in popularity and changing our marketplace. For pharmacies, the takeaway is simple. If you don’t have a strategy to take your store online and mobile, you are putting your business at a distinct disadvantage. Furthermore, if you aren’t investing in communication technology and infrastructure that can support multi-media marketing (e.g. video) you are missing an important opportunity.
Make it Personal
If you have ever watched The Terminator, you know that it’s only a matter of time before computers take over. But how will they do it? The science behind the rise of the machines is called A.I. or ‘artificial intelligence’. All kidding aside, A.I. is not a threat. It is the driving force behind how we will communicate with customers in the future.
Built on the premise that machines can become intelligent by using data, A.I. holds the promise that systems can understand requests, connect data points and draw conclusions. By levering A.I., we will be able to better target specific audiences, create better content, make better recommendations and build deeper relationships. It also means that we have reached a point where communicating with consumers can and should be personalized. Studies have clearly shown that when companies tailor their messaging to the individual, growth and loyalty follows.
So, what does it mean to personalize communications in the context of pharmacy? It’s more than simply knowing your customer’s name or sending them a birthday text. You should be proactive with timely and pertinent information. It’s about not just providing refill reminders, but also making patients aware of pharmacy services that are relevant to them based on their unique health condition.
Here are a few examples. When a diabetic patient is refilling a prescription the system automatically knows to communicate information about DMSE support offered. Or letting patients know that they should consider getting immunized for Pneumovax based on known gaps in their immunization history. Or understanding that the patient has just received their first fill for an injectable medication and providing them with instructional videos on how to self-administer.
Ultimately, personalization in pharmacy can reinforce one of the pharmacist’s greatest assets – trust. And by doing so, drive loyalty and growth.
Voice Assistants are the Future
For those of you old enough to remember when the 21st century felt like the distant future, you may recall the film 2001: A Space Odyssey and that famous scene when the ship’s computer (named Hal) uttered that famous line, “good morning Dave…”. For those of you who never saw the movie or who can’t envision a time when 2001 seemed like a date far into the future, what made that scene so startling was that the ship’s computer could talk! Today Hal has been replaced by Alexa and Siri, and no one gives it a second thought. Powered by artificial intelligence and machine learning, voice assistant technology is now a reality, and it is well on its way to becoming the preferred user interface for virtual communication.
The utilization of digital voice assistant technology is growing at an exponential rate. As of January 2019, 21 percent of the U.S. population, or 66.4 million people, used voice assistant technology on a weekly basis. By June of 2019, there were approximately 76 million voice assistant devices in operation within the U.S., a 73% increase from June of 2017. Voice assistant adoption rates are projected to keep growing on a pervasive upward trend, with 55% of all U.S. households utilizing the technology by 2022. In fact, this year, 50 percent of all internet searches are forecasted to be voice initiated and by 2022, voice-based shopping will be a $40B industry!
Despite this, communication solutions in healthcare (and pharmacy in particular) have not kept pace. Market data shows that the pharmacy customer is rapidly adopting voice assistant technology, but pharmacies and the technology providers supporting them are not capitalizing on it yet. But this will change, because voice assistant technology is an ideal solution for the pharmacy consumer. It allows people to engage the ‘virtual pharmacy’ on their terms, phrasing questions and requests in a way that makes sense to them and not having to follow the structured workflow of an IVR or be constrained by a limited set of SMS text responses.
Voice assistants in pharmacy, combined with A.I., will ultimately give patients the ability to securely access and review medications in real-time, order prescription refills, hear details as to why a prescription may not be refillable (i.e. no refills, expired, etc.), request the pharmacy contact the prescriber to authorize additional refills, request their preferred method of delivery, set daily medication reminders and receive proactive alerts when they are eligible for immunizations and clinical services that are relevant to their prescribed therapy.
So, there you have it – the three big trends that will impact pharmacy communications. One, high-speed networks are rapidly expanding and will pave the way for mobile, content-rich consumer experiences. Two, artificial intelligence will enable highly targeted and personalized healthcare communications and three, voice assistant technology will be a preferred and expected means of communicating with your pharmacy.
As you evaluate technology providers, specifically as it relates to patient communications, keep in mind that whatever technology you invest in it should enable a personalized and cohesive brand experience in an integrated platform. In the end, your patients and your future self will thank you!
John G. King, CEO
John is the chief executive officer of OmniSYS. He focuses on driving innovation and delivering high-impact solutions that enable customers to grow their businesses profitably. He is passionate about the company’s mission to improve the health of healthcare. With over 25 years of sales and operational expertise in healthcare and information technology, John has devoted his career to advancing health through the creation and adoption of innovative solutions.