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Big Data played a massive role during the pandemic, and it’s set to continue changing the world of pharmacy.

If you’re a pharmacy owner, or pharmacist of any kind, Big Data is already impacting your life. And its impact will grow exponentially. How can I say that with such certainty? Because Big Data is shaping the future, which affects everyone. But in this article, we’re concentrating on the specific impact that Big Data may hold for pharmacy in the future.

What is “Big Data”?

Big data is information, and lots of it. So much, in fact, analysis by anything other than powerful computers is impossible. In healthcare, hospitals and clinics across the world generate 2,314 exabytes annually. An exabyte is to a gigabyte what the Sun is to the Earth. If that seems like too much to wrap your head around, it’s because it is. Even traditional computers cannot compute that much data.

Every minute, on the Internet:

  • 2.1 million Snapchats sent.
  • 3.8 million searches on Google.
  • 1 million people log into Facebook.
  • 4.5 million videos watched on YouTube.
  • 188 million emails sent.

That’s a lot of data. And though it might not seem like it, data tells stories. Advancing into a more data-centric world, understanding these stories influences our capacity to adapt.

Working against the numbers is like sailing against the wind. Working without numbers is like sailing without a compass. Naturally, working with the numbers is the preference. So a future with more numbers gives us a better chance of making better decisions.

How does Big Data work with AI?

Artificial Intelligence is inextricably linked with Big Data. AI learns best with the massive amounts of information provided by Big Data. And Big Data is too big for anything except automated systems and AI to collate and manage.

So how can Independent Community Pharmacy use all that data?

Because of the scale of Big Data, I can’t see Community Pharmacies harnessing Big Data directly. The infrastructure required isn’t affordable or even worthwhile for a comparatively small business.

What is a possibility is centralising all this data and making relevant data accessible to pharmacies. Third party service providers utilising Big Data may also improve the quality of life for Pharmacists, as we’ll explore later.

It’s also likely with pharmacy’s integration with the rest of the health service, that as Big Data impacts healthcare, pharmacy will feel the ripple effects.

Your pharmacy’s data as part of Big Data

Rather than using the Big Data, Community Pharmacy may find itself being used by Big Data. Community Pharmacies provide anonymised patient data into the huge database, where it can provide that bigger picture. Obviously this is a subject of much discussion, balancing privacy and data-protection with the wider benefits of data-sharing from a health perspective.

Since companies like Meta & Google already harvest (anonymised) personal data for profits, lobbying for improved individual healthcare through shared data doesn’t sound too underhanded.

Privacy Concerns

Protection of this data from privatisation & for-profit ventures, however, is a notable concern. There is a lot more red-tape, as always, when it comes to health data too. A technical employee from Facebook hypothetically seeing information about your account is one thing. But health records are a more serious breach.

When it comes to Big Data, a single Community Pharmacy may also be impacted, not because of what you can see and action because of that bigger picture, but because you’re a part of it. As the bigger picture is seen clearly, decisions could be made which hold ramifications for every community pharmacy, or individual ones. An example could be the value of individual pharmaceuticals if the processes for drug trialling becomes radically simplified.

Another practical example is identifying certain geographical areas prescribing more antibiotics compared to other areas. Regulatory bodies can identify pharmacies and surgeries in these areas using Big Data and run targeted campaigns aimed at either reducing these prescriptions, or increasing them in surrounding areas if they’re also showing reduced hospital admissions.

Is Big Data impacting pharmacy right now?

Big Data is very much underway as a phenomenon in the both the industry and the wider world.

Tracking footfall with smartphone GPS

There exists already an advanced form of advertising tracking, typically for humongous advertising behemoths (think McDonald’s level), where through smartphone tracking, advertising agencies can trace someone who was within line of sight of a billboard, for example, and then visited a McDonald’s restaurant.

Like any technology, when first introduced, they’re expensive and generally unavailable to the wider public. But just like 4KTV’s, Smartphone location tracking draws nearer to the mainstream. It already exists in diluted form, if you’ve ever seen on your Google My Business profile, this is GPS phone tracking in action.

Imagine this, but with more insights for your pharmacy business. Where do they travel from? Where did they go before your pharmacy? What’s the average age of people who visit you on a weekend? How many of the people who saw your social media post visited your pharmacy in the next 7 days?

How might Big Data impact Community Pharmacy in the future?

Big Data’s impact on Community Pharmacy will increase exponentially, parallel to data’s impact on our lives in general.

The limitation is the same as data’s limitation has always been – the people analysing the findings and the way that we collect data.

  • Drug development
  • Patient compliance
  • More data informed patient health & proactive interventions
  • Risk assessment & fraud reduction
  • More efficient clinical trials
  • Assisting with Pharmacy Purchasing, both for purchasing pharmacy assets and pharmacy businesses.

Not all of these directly impact pharmacy, but pharmacy feels the ripple effects of the shock waves in healthcare.

How wearable technology helps Big Data

Wearables are small electronic devices that, when placed on your body, can help measure temperature, blood pressure, blood oxygen, breathing rate, sound, GPS location, elevation, physical movement, changes in direction, and the electrical activity of the heart, muscles, brain, and skin.

These measurements help with all levels of assessment for a wide variety of ailments.

Think about trying to diagnose someone without any information. Naturally, the more informed we are, the better our judgment becomes.

Informing Patient Interactions with Big Data

Big Data from health apps, medical records and other sources revolutionise your conversations with patients.

Pharmacy is an analytical profession. Interpreting patients data alongside Big Data trends means better prescribing pre-treatment, and better medication assessments post-treatment. Of course, for individual care like this, opting-in to data tracking becomes necessary for patients.

As a pharmacist, there will almost certainly be a consultation opportunity either to address these Early Warning Signs, or to monitor the use of and advise on the data provided by wearable technologies so that it never reaches that stage.

Wearables should in theory hand agency and power over to the patients. Whether this inspires a new generation of health-conscious patients, time will tell.

What are some of the barriers to Big Data for Pharmacy?

The biggest barrier is in both the centralisation of data and the privacy associated with data tracking. Maybe approval for centralised data never arrives. Perhaps in ten years, the public are hyper-aware and precious about their personal data and turn GPS tracking off.

Preventing databases from hacking and exposing large amounts of people’s health data is obviously a great concern. Mitigating and preventing this is necessary before approaching anything like centralised health data.

Whoever holds the data holds the power

Meta & Google currently hold vast quantities of the world’s data. They don’t exactly hold the best reputation as a result of the profits from this data. When basing big decisions on the data, trust in the source and credibility of this data is a pre-requisite. Large corporations hardly have a clean record of telling the truth with data.

What do I need to do as a pharmacist?

Informing your decisions with data is always a smart move. Big Data will bring more data to your door. Getting experience handling and basing business decisions on data now is great preparation for a data-filled future.

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There are lots of guides for all the processes and procedures of selling your pharmacy. This is not one of them. In this guide, we’ll focus entirely on how digitisation can raise your sale price.

Selling Your Pharmacy 101

When it comes to selling your pharmacy, you obviously want the best price possible. But for every person selling a pharmacy, there’s someone buying. They want the best price too. So how do you go about convincing that buyer to spend more money on your pharmacy business?

It starts by thinking like a buyer.

Do pharmacy buyers know how valuable their digital asset is worth?

What do buyers want when buying a pharmacy?

Some of the main considerations when purchasing a pharmacy are:

  • How profitable the business is
  • Whether revenue is trending up or down
  • The potential for growing the business
  • Spotting opportunities to save money where the existing business doesn’t
  • The volume and mix of prescriptions
  • The categorical mix of the pharmacy’s patients, e.g. clinical, prescription, retail
  • Status of contracts

But the main considerations we’ll explore in this article are the ones we’ve highlighted.

Whilst there are people who prefer buying struggling businesses and turning them around, most buyers want a healthy business. The majority of bets in a horse race are on the favourite. And higher profit margins equals a higher purchase price.

Stable. Replicable. Predictable.

But here’s the rub. What buyers really value is continuity in those high profits. The continuation of that upwards revenue trend. It’s great that you’re generating all those profits. But if you leave the business? Taking your extensive local knowledge, partnerships you’ve developed over years, and the understanding of your pharmacy team with you? Where’s the assurance that the healthy business they’ve bought won’t fall down around their ears?

What they want, with a healthy business, is business as usual. Stability in transition. Predictability for the future, which means replicable business practice. Savvy pharmacy buyers will poke holes in valuations that don’t have these characteristics, driving down the price. So in this instance, digitisation doesn’t necessarily raise the price of your pharmacy, but it does prevent it from being driven down.

The more systemised, the more automated, the more robust processes in place, the better. Digitisation is a major component in all three.

How do digital systems increase the value of your pharmacy?

Well, in the purest form, digital systems, (e.g. websites) are an asset. If your pharmacy is worth £980,000 and you spend £20k on a website, now your pharmacy is worth £1m. So if you’re planning on selling your pharmacy, a website is a reasonably risk-free investment, as you can build it into the value of your business.

Naturally, that only works if you own the website. Website rental software, the type you pay for year-on-year, doesn’t belong to you, nor does any data contained within it. Therefore, you cannot build it into the value of your business.

Another way digital systems increase the value of your pharmacy, is the opportunity for revenue growth, especially in the future.

An existing marketing list, a website where several of your services get found on Google, an engaged audience on Social Media…these are all things that take time to cultivate. And time = money. Especially time well spent.

Since pharmacy sales usually take a while to go through, provided you haven’t even begun the process yet, you’ve still got plenty of time to digitise your pharmacy.

Why ignoring data is a disaster

For a start, let’s make one thing clear. Data is the most valuable commodity in the world. That’s why companies like Google, Amazon and Meta are so big.

There are three important questions to answer before you can assuredly include data into the valuation of your business.

What data does your pharmacy business own? (Important distinction which I will clarify later)

How does your pharmacy collect data?

What does your pharmacy do with the data?

How valuable data appears throughout your Digital Ecosystem

  • A proper website provides digital infrastructure which both harvests and utilises useful data for your pharmacy business
  • A healthy social media presence helps transition a change of management with the pharmacy’s existing community
  • Email Marketing Lists retarget existing pharmacy users and drive repeat business
  • EPOS systems with key consumer insights both in-store and via eCommerce help with retail sales and promotions
  • Paid advertising accounts with data on previous campaigns aid future campaigns

There are always due diligence processes during the purchase of a pharmacy, ensuring a pharmacy is as it claims in the listing. Data is concrete. It can’t be questioned.

Google Analytics for Your Website

Let’s say you’re top of Google, and you get 1,000 clicks per month on that page. With a quick calculation on Google Ads, you can understand how much each click is worth for the keyword you’re ranking for.

If it costs £1/click for you to appear on Ads for “Yellow Fever Vaccine” and you’re getting 1k clicks per month? That’s £1k/month you can incorporate into the value of your business.

But you cannot do that without having the data. You cannot have that data without having a website. And this is why digitisation built into your business is a really quick way to increase the value of your business.

Don’t own your website? You don’t own the data within it either.

In the same way that if you owned a fleet of vans, you can incorporate the assets into the value of a business, but you can’t if they’re rentals, you can’t incorporate either a website or its data into your business valuation if you don’t own them.

Want some other quick ways to increase the value of your pharmacy?

A good yardstick for measuring the progress of your pharmacy by taking The Perfect Pharmacy Scorecard. 30 questions. 5 minutes. Tailored report, with advice for improvement in each area depending on how you score. Then a 5-day email action-plan diving into more detail on each major area of a pharmacy business (non-clinical).

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