An omnichannel approach to healthcare enhances patient choice

Toby Anderson, CEO at McKesson UK, shares his thoughts on the COVID-19 pandemic and why the future for healthcare is an omni-channel approach.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many aspects of daily life, including how we access the healthcare system. Colleagues will agree that the pandemic has caused the NHS to undergo 5 years’ worth of digital transformation in a matter of months. It was quite an achievement, and the impact will be with us for years to come.

At the start of the pandemic, it became clear very quickly that to protect patients and the NHS, GP surgeries would need to close their doors and start conducting virtual consultations. This enabled GPs to work from home, helped prevent the spread of the virus and most crucially, enabled vulnerable patients to self-isolate. As we emerge from the pandemic, our healthcare system will need to adapt to balance physical and virtual environments to best meet the needs of patients.

Whilst some may view digital as the obvious way forward, it is not workable for GPs or any part of primary care to only provide virtual services in the long term. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. There are some patients who must be assessed in person. For example, it would be impossible to diagnose a patient with a movement disorder on a Zoom call or over the telephone.
  2. Consultations which take place virtually are in their nature more like business transactions. If you’ve ever spoken to a primary care HCP about their day-to-day job, they will tell you that sometimes it is necessary for them to develop a relationship with a patient in order to get to the crux of what the issue is.
  3. There is a good portion of the population that, whether because of socio-economic background or age, are not digitally-skilled. These people would not be able to access healthcare services appropriately if they are only provided virtually.

An omnichannel approach to the delivery of healthcare is necessary. But crucially, it gives patients an opportunity to choose how they want to access their treatment and care. For some patients it is convenient and preferable to collect their prescriptions in person. They enjoy having a chat with staff in one of our LloydsPharmacy branches, getting advice about their medication and picking up a few bits and bobs they might be missing at home. For others, it is far more convenient to use the digital route, utilising technology that reminds them when to re-order their repeat prescription, and to have it sent direct to their front door or workplace.

McKesson have a network of 1,500 community pharmacies across the UK and we pride ourselves on delivering the best in-person care for our patients. Our presence on the high street enables us to be an easy point of contact for patients seeking healthcare advice and means that we can play a crucial role in delivering public health services, such as flu vaccinations.

In recent years, my colleagues and I have been enhancing our digital services so as to create a truly consistent experience for patients across our channels. Our website – LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor – enables patients to have a virtual consultation with a doctor or pharmacist for a range of prescription only medications. The prescription can then be delivered to the patient’s front door or to their local LloydsPharmacy for collection.

The key is convenience for the patient and that is why our Online Doctor services run in parallel to our ECHO by LloydsPharmacy app. ECHO makes ordering and receiving prescription medicines as straightforward as it can be and we are now supporting 500,000 patients through the platform.

We all know what it’s like to collect a paper prescription from a GP and then trundle up to the local pharmacy, hand in the prescription and then wait for 10, 20, 30 minutes for it to be assembled. ECHO completely revolutionises that process. Now, all patients need to do is download the app, input the name of the prescription medication needed and then sit back and let ECHO do the work. The platform contacts the patient’s GP to confirm the prescription order, before preparing it, and then giving the patient a choice in how they receive that medication.

Giving patients a choice in how they want their healthcare needs met is the crucial point. Using the ECHO app to have a prescription dispensed in a local Lloyds Pharmacy is sometimes the preferred solution for the patient; but at other times, having their medications conveniently delivered to their home is the best option.

Striking a balance between bricks and mortar and e-commerce is my biggest challenge for McKesson UK. We want to create a consistent experience for the patient – on the phone, on the internet and in person. We’ve weaved together all of our channels and tactics to create a truly patient-centric approach to healthcare, and this is how we believe that patients will increasingly want to manage their healthcare in the future.