The jury is still out on purely online pharmacies, but startups in this field are developing solutions designed to help small bricks-and-mortar chemists’ shops adopt digital systems.

Pharmao promotes digitised processes and stock management at pharmacies

‘Drive-throughs’ are no longer solely the preserve of fast food outlets and supermarkets. In fact these days some startups are looking to apply this concept to pharmacies. Some pharmacies have already adopted this approach, but it is not easy to find out which ones have gone this route. Now Pharmao, a French company set up two years ago, which came to public notice at the Hacking Health Camp in Strasbourg, has set out to bring digital technology into French pharmacies, offering ‘drive through’ technology and bringing all chemists’ shops on to a single platform. The Pharmao mobile app, which has been available for download for six months now, is a "tool which tells the pharmacy that an order is on its way," explains founder Nicolas Schweizer. All you have to do is to take a photo of your prescription with your smartphone and select the pharmacy – Pharmao partners only – you want to send it to. Once the order has been processed, you will receive a notification telling you that you can come, armed with your prescription, and pick it up.


A win-win solution for customer and pharmacist

The Pharmao system has many advantages for the pharmacist who makes up the prescription and other staff working at the pharmacy. First and foremost the app enables the pharmacist to manage stocks more efficiently and plan ahead – which is often difficult for a small business, especially if there is an outbreak of a particular disease. In addition pharmacists can use Pharmao to highlight promotions, for example on other products that are sold at the shop.

On the website and the mobile app Pharmao provides a map of all the pharmacies in France, listing their address, telephone number and opening hours. This not only makes it easier for a customer to find a pharmacy close by, but effectively having his/her own mini-site is also a real advantage for the pharmacist. "In a way, we take care of some of the IT aspects that pharmacists don’t always have the time to familiarise themselves with," Schweizer underlines.

Pharmao can certainly help to save the customer time. ''Some pharmacies even set aside a counter reserved for users of the app. This means that they don’t have to wait at the cash desk while their prescription is being made up or stand in a queue to pick up their order,” points out Schweizer. On average it takes twenty minutes from the moment the photo of the prescription is sent until the product is ready for pickup.


                        Pharmao applies the ‘drive-through’ concept to pharmacies

A first step towards digitising the local pharmacy

Since the launch of the Pharmao solution, 150 pharmacies have signed up to the process. The Pharmao founder claims the company is posting 20% growth per month, which puts it in a good position to catch up with its French online competitor 1001PHARMACIES, which boasts close to 600 partner dispensaries. As France’s National Institute for Statistic and Economics Studies (INSEE) listed 24,000 pharmacies in France in 2012, Nicolas Schweizer believes he has a good chance of reaching, and even exceeding, the 600 figure: ‟We are sometimes contacted by the pharmacies themselves,” he claims. One of the next features for the Pharmao app will be functionality enabling the pharmacy to send an SMS to inform a customer when his/her order is ready and the designers already have a number of ideas in the pipeline to help local pharmacies make the shift to digital systems.

By Pauline Canteneur