We’re not sure whether it’s borne from a deep-set fear of swine flu, or the ensuing speculation about how much various drugs manufacturers are making from Tamiflu, or even because in dark economic times everyone starts feeling a bit sorry for themselves and indulges even the faintest flickers of ill-health - but there’s definitely a lot of coverage of the pharmaceuticals industry in the press at the moment.
The latest news is that Lloydspharmacy is going to be rebranding itself as a ‘healthcare provider’. Which means it’s trying to go some way to becoming more like a GP surgery/pharmacy all-in-one.
Patients will be able to consult doctors remotely in-store using newly installed computers – prescriptions will be available for a selection of conditions as a result. The ‘virtual GPs’ are in 300 stores, alongside consultation rooms where patients can also get vaccinations and check-ups.
This is some great innovative thinking from the company. It’s done a good job of capitalising on trends and leading its industry into new waters recently. In September last year, for example, it allowed men to order viagra online after filling out an online questionnaire, realising that many felt too embarrassed to go to their GP about erectile dysfunction – all part of its move to play a more active role in diagnosing and treating problems, rather than just dispensing medication.
It’s an initiative that’s been working, too – sales went up by 7.2% in the three months to the end of March this year.
The innovativeness doesn’t just keep it abreast of competition – which has been increasingly fierce since new regulation in 2005 has allowed supermarkets to sell a wider range of drugs. It also ensures a healthy amount of PR. This latest venture has again attracted national coverage.
It shows that just because there’s a recession on, you should by no means stop innovating and trying to move into new markets. This is probably the best time to do so, in fact – any ground you make will leave competitors who are focusing wholeheartedly on surviving straggling miles behind.
And if you can solve a huge market problem at the same time, you’re onto a real winner. As Lloydpharmacy MD Richard Smith explained in The Times today: “If the Government wants people to take responsibility for their own health, it should be about checking if you have got high blood pressure, checking for diabetes. You should be able to do it in the home. We’re trying to position our pharmacy as a healthcare company that can check you for diabetes, check you for heart disease.”
By making itself the company that spearheads improvements to the whole healthcare system, Lloydspharmacy not only ensures a massive market share – in markets it is itself creating and disrupting – but also does it in a way that hugely boosts the strength of its brand.
Good business thinking indeed.