Could we soon be collecting our meds from a supermarket locker?

A supermarket co-operative in the UK is trialling an ‘Amazon locker-style prescription service’ that has the potential to disrupt the way traditional community pharmacies do business.

The UK-based Co-operative Group has announced they’re about to trial a ‘click-and-collect’ service that would see patients submit their script online via a digital app on their mobile phone. The patient would then receive a PIN code generated by the app that allows them to retrieve their medication from a secure locker located within the Co-operative’s grocery supermarkets.

The medications ordered through the app will be dispensed to the lockers from a new central pharmacy distribution centre the company has established in north west England.

Matthew Bellgrove from National Custom Compounding in Queensland says community pharmacies in Australia should be watching this trial with interest.

“We have a different regulatory environment in Australia compared to the UK however if this kind of zero-personal-service dispensary is successful it won’t be long before someone tries to get the concept approved here.”

“A model like this would be detrimental to the health of Australians. Eliminating the personal one-on-one service that a pharmacist provides, and replacing it with an app, can only lead to negative health outcomes,” Matthew said.

“An app does not know a patient’s medical history, co-existing health issues, or the other medications they may be taking. It can’t answer questions. And an app does not have the reasoning and detailed understanding of pharmaceuticals that a qualified pharmacist does.

The trial will initially only be available for repeat prescriptions and will be piloted at five stores in England’s north west. Patients will also have the option of having prescriptions delivered to their door or to another community pharmacy closer to home.

“For community pharmacy to work it has to be collaborative with other healthcare providers, not run in isolation,” Matthew said, “We run a Pharmacy Partner Network for this reason, so we can work together to achieve the best health outcome for the patient. It shouldn’t be treated like a supermarket commodity.”

Co-op Health, a newly created arm of The Co-operative Group claims the app is ‘unique in the market’ and will link patients with their GPs via the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).

In a statement, managing director of Co-op Health, Tim Davies, said, “The pharmacy sector is at the start of a digital revolution, as consumers increasingly look for more flexibility and convenience in accessing their medication.

“Our offer will give customers a range of ways to get hold of their medication, with the knowledge that the service is being provided by a brand they know and can trust, in a way that best suits them.”

The Co-op claims that digital pharmacy currently accounts for less than 1% of the UK’s prescription market and that 80% of the estimated one billion prescriptions dispensed every year in the UK are repeats.

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