Creating community magic

Cobie McQueen, Franchise Partner at Priceline Pharmacy Horsham in western Victoria, tells us about her career highlights, her pharmacy and team, the evolution of the industry, and more.

What have been some of your career and store highlights?

We’ve been fortunate enough to win Priceline’s Store of the Year award twice, in 2015 and 2018, and I won the Priceline Pharmacist of the Year award in 2016. Those experiences taught me magic can happen when the entire team is engaged and united in its shared goals and the leadership skills required to achieve that culture. It also taught me the value of making time to work ]on the business. Making time to think and strategise can feel like a luxury, but it’s a necessity to thrive.

What has been the impact of technology on pharmacy over recent years?

Technology provides so many efficiencies for us working in-store and for our patients. We have a Consis in our dispensary, and I underestimated how much it would improve our workflow. eScripts are also a game changer – even when they’re ‘lost’ they’re super easy to access via MySL, meaning patients can access their medication without waiting for a GP appointment to get a new paper prescription. eScripts, coupled with the Priceline Pharmacy app and MedAdvisor, means we often have 30 to 40 orders waiting for us in the morning, which is convenient and efficient for both our patients and us. Our ‘health station’ allows patients to perform their own health checks and receive their results via email or within their SiSU Health app for easy access. The use of technology also decreases paper waste, which is just one of the ways we’ve improved the sustainability of our pharmacy.

How has the pharmacy industry and its approach to health services evolved over the years?

Services are becoming the rule rather than the exception, with all pharmacies now offering some level of service as we look to further develop our professional fulfilment and tap into additional funding sources. The industry has split into two streams: a low-cost/high-volume model and a consultation-based model, and those distinctions are becoming more disparate. Some pharmacies have developed a specialised consultation model and others take more of a retail focus. There’s room for many different models, but the key is to be clear in what you want your store to be and what your community needs.

Tell us about the ethos of your pharmacy and how it differs from other pharmacies in your view?

Our community is at the centre of any decision made in our stores, so we give as much support to our community as we can. Practising rurally presents its own challenges, but being able to see the difference pharmacy makes every day is inspiring. We also respect and value the retail offer. With Priceline, we can provide a retail offering that our community would otherwise have to travel to Ballarat or Melbourne to get [Horsham is 300km from Melbourne]. I love retail as its own discipline and consider myself very lucky that I get to combine my passion for pharmacy and retail in one career.

Why is looking after your community so important to your pharmacy? What do you think your customer base values most about your pharmacy?

We don’t exist without our community, but we also offer something valuable to our community. Horsham matters to me because this is where I grew up. It’s full of people who’ve supported me to become the person that I am, and now I get to repay that by looking after them. It’s not uncommon for people to travel long distances or wait for lengths of time to access healthcare, so us providing expertise closer to home can be a relief for customers. I think our patients value friendly faces they know and trust, extended opening hours, and a wide range of products.

What are the values at your pharmacy and why is it so important to maintain core values in community pharmacy?

Our pharmacies operate with the values of respect, trust, problem-solving and leadership. We’re motivated by wanting to help people, and care about health and wellbeing. Maintaining values in community pharmacy provides a foundation we can return to when days are tough, and we need a reminder of why we’re here. It also provides a clear expectation of the standard we expect from our team, what they can expect from each other and what they can expect from us as their employers.

What are the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic most changed how the pharmacy operates?

COVID-19 cemented community pharmacy as the preferred location to receive vaccines, which changed our scope from a seasonal run of flu vaccines to a core part of our business. It’s given our patients easier access to healthcare via telehealth, and we now work with prescribers around the state as a result. The introduction of eScripts has reduced paperwork, decreasing the number of faxed scripts and our reliance on Australia Post. Hopefully, that will continue to improve.

How has your team performed during the challenges of the past few years?

It’s a terrible feeling telling people they can’t have something they need, due to stock shortages, and then having to explain to their prescriber why we cannot supply. Our technicians do a fantastic job sourcing product. Our team has developed greater flexibility and problem-solving skills to overcome challenges that can feel unrelenting at times. We try to look after each other and create team bonding situations, celebrating our successes, and try to limit our worries to what we can control.

What is your pharmacy’s most popular service and why do you think it’s so successful? What’s your advice to other pharmacies seeking to strengthen that service in their store?

Our most popular service is vaccinations. The public (generally) engages with vaccinations because they’re relatively inexpensive, easy to access with limited to no waiting time, and provide benefits to them individually and their wider community. Everyone knows someone who is vulnerable to vaccine-preventable disease, so customers are often receptive to ‘doing their bit’ to help the community.

What do you predict the rest of 2023 has in store for pharmacy?

The rest of 2023 will be shaped by the outcomes of 60-day dispensing and what an early eighth Community Pharmacy Agreement will look like. Cost of living constraints are expected to continue impacting customers’ discretional spend. Any further interest rate increases before the end of the year could affect Christmas retail trade.

What do you look forward to most in 2023/24?

I’m looking forward to the increased scope of practice activities in October as announced by the Victorian government. It will be great to join other states in providing services that take up space in other areas of the healthcare system, to the benefit of our community. I’m excited to provide easier access to healthcare for women by facilitating access to continued supply of the oral contraceptive pill and antibiotics for uncomplicated UTIs.

This is an extract from Retail Pharmacy September, Pharmacy Profile.

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