End of financial year data collected over five successive years now, help us understand the answer. Over this period, more than 250 studies have been conducted – real time observational audits, scoring a host of elements associated with customer engagement effectiveness, script processing efficiency, and role accountability in terms of customer engagement and script processing at the dispensary. A modicum of context first. Cast your mind back to FY13. We were in the midst of the fifth community agreement. PBS reform was still on the upswing. Chemist Warehouse was sub-300 stores. A Guild spokesperson analogised the industry as on a “burning platform”. The winds of change were howling. And still are. Case studies of other industries that went through their “burning platform” tell us time and again that those players that adapt their service offer and relevance to the new world order quickly enough survive, and sometimes even thrive. Those that don’t perish. So let’s see what the five year longitudinal analysis tells us.

• Dispensary and serving counters resourcing levels … perhaps surprisingly, when taken as a ratio of script production throughput, have flat lined through the period, bobbing up and down around the flat line of best fit. Current benchmark = 7.7 full time equivalents per 100K scripts
• Proportion of qualified pharmacist resource within this resourcing level … Ditto, flat-lining, bobbing up and down around the current 46%
• What about how qualified pharmacist resource available is deployed, vis-à-vis a forward pharmacy service model … The studies suggest a progressive shift in pharmacist focus in terms of the role type serving customers at the script and otc counters … Keeping in mind that pharmacist proportional representation within the team has hovered around 46%, the proportional representation of customers served by pharmacists has moved from 42% to nowadays nudging over 50%
• Script processing speed? … holding steady, bobbing up and down around an average of just over 4 minutes per script item … keeping in mind that production down or idle time is more than half that duration at 53%. And has held steady throughout the period.
• Script customer visit retention rate? … Five years ago, the benchmark was sitting comfortably above 50%, around 53%. It drifted 10% lower than that, but has bounced back to surpass 53% and nudge beyond 56% . A kind of “J” curve.
• Script customer engagement duration … after starting at 2m 25s five years ago, this drifted dangerously close to 2m, but last year catapulted to 2m 45s. 1 year aberration ? Time will tell.
• Script customer disengagement duration … disconcertingly has been blowing out over the period … from 2m 16s to 2m 54s
• The proportion of that engagement that features rich, proactive health and meds counsel … drifted downwards markedly from 38s to 24s, before catapulting last year to 53s. 1 year aberration or timely trend reversal?
• We see a similar trend with % frequency with which the script customer receives some form of proactive meds counsel, however long/short in duration … from 58% down to 45%, re-trending back up to 58%
• Rate of companion add-on for script customers … a clear positive trend … From 17 per 100 script customer visits to 32
• Scrutinising the same sorts of metrics and benchmarks for the OTC customer visit experience, also shows mixed staff behavioural results, with a more modest increase in basket size {the counterpart to companion add-on for script customers} … from 117 per 100 OTC customers to 122.

What to make of all this? Whilst I have no hard, defensible metric for the overall rate of change in the industry over this 2013-present period, I would, nonetheless take the high ground to posit that the rate of change that pharmacists and their staff can control, ie toward an industry wide, highly engaging, rich counselling, medication and health solution offer {as can be measured, showcasing the example numbers above} is neither compelling nor quick enough to meet the industry change challenge.

In a two horse race, the negativity within the industry is winning.