Robotics in the pharmacy – “Farmacia news” 06/2007

Robotics in the Pharmacy
the pharmacy of Dr P. Licciulli – Monopoli (IT)

Interview published in Farmacia News 6-2007 by Elisabetta Calabrese

On 28th February  1975 Dr Paolo Licciulli was entrusted with running pharmacy no. 7 of the province of Bari, taking over temporarily from the owner. Five years later, Dr Licciulli became the new owner of the pharmacy which has been known as the Licciulli Pharmacy ever since.

The interview that Dr Licciulli’s gave us tells a story that is similar to many an Italian pharmacist. However what makes Dr Licciulli’s story exemplary are the inter-personal skills and entrepreneurial intuition upon which his success is built. Good customer service and getting your clientele to trust your professional opinion  are two of Dr Licciulli’s secrets for success. These are universally valid as they confirm and strengthen the pharmacist’s reputation as a health professional, guardian of  public health who is always ready to listen to customers’ health problems and requests for help which are often difficult to decipher and confused. Such a service needs to welcome the customer/patient in a specially designed environment that is highly functional. Furthermore, the pharmacy should allow customers to seek advice in privacy and a receive highly personalised and specialised service. In short, this interview provides us with a window on the changing face of the modern pharmacy, conceived as a public service first and foremost.

Dr Licciulli, what has changed since 28th February 1975 to make your pharmacy what is it today?

“Back in the 1970’s the pharmacy was located in the suburbs and served only a small number of residents on middle to low incomes. They were very ordinary folk but polite and this made me and my associate want to get to know them better and interact.”

What do you mean by “interact”?

“Well, they become like members of the family. They would come into the pharmacy to ask advice on tackling  some sort of health problem or ask if we had a medicine for a particular complaint. By listening to them and finding solutions to their needs we were able to set ourselves apart from the competition and earn a reputation for being patient and helpful. A very spontaneous and natural strategy”.

Then what happened?

“At the beginning of the 1980’s we were threaten with eviction, so we bought another shop opposite the old pharmacy and we moved there after having it completely refurbished.”

What factors were behind growth of your pharmacy?

“The refurbishment of the pharmacy went hand in hand with the consolidation of our professional image in the locality that was undergoing strong demographic growth at the time. As a result, we needed to expand and gradually recruit new well-qualified staff who had excellent communication and interpersonal skills. In 2005, we purchased another 30 sq. m. which was then incorporated into the existing pharmacy which was refitted again in line with our business’ ethos of customer service”.

Which ideas inspired this modernisation?

“We were enthused by the idea of renewing and planning a new pharmacy that anticipated the needs of the future. My old pharmacy was still very attractive, even though its was over 20 years old. However, I slowly realised that it wasn’t very functional. When it was very busy, there were at least 3 or 4 of us behind the counter, and we would get in each other’s way all the time, for example having to queue up to use the till. Often, we would reply to one customer at the same time as other customers were asking us questions.”

How did you react to solve these problems?

«To stop us getting in each other’s way and better organise our contact with the public, I replaced the old counter with 3 counters, each one with its own till, telephone, 2 monitors and staffed by 2 pharmacists who could serve customers independently. Every counter was connected to a robot-operated dispensary, in which a robot selects the desired remedy from the shelves”.

Have you set aside a space where customers can consult your staff in privacy?

“The organisation of the prescription area and sales counters ensures privacy and favours a one-to-one relationship between customer and pharmacist. Customers rarely complain about the pharmacy being crowded and, on the contrary, often comment that having 6 people working contemporarily ensures they get served very quickly”.

Does the new layout of the pharmacy give more visibility to certain specialised product sectors?

“Around the first counter near the entrance you will find medicines for treating seasonal complaints which can be seen but not picked up by the customers. This satisfies those customers who know what they are looking for and are in a hurry. The second counter displays products that customers need to ask about before purchasing and is organised so as to make deciding and asking more information as easy as possible. Cosmetics, homeopathic remedies and personal hygiene are displayed separately, while the third counter fulfils the role of ‘wise counsellor’.”

What do you mean by ‘wise counsellor’ exactly?

“Well, this area is dedicated to products and services largely for the elderly and infirm. You can measure your blood pressure and check your blood sugar levels enabling customers or patients to check that the remedy is having the desired result and if not, go back and consult their family doctor.”

So you mean that the pharmacist is a kind of health consultant, who helps to promote prevention and good health rather than just selling cures?

“In the past, one of the principal causes of illness in Europe was malnutrition. Nowadays, the wheel has turned full circle as obesity and a lack of exercise are important causes of illness and mortality. To tackle these new problems, pharmacists have an important role to play as the front line in the defence of good health, screening and giving advice rather than just selling pharmaceutical produ                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   cts.”

How important is training?

“It’s a good idea for pharmacists to keep on top of new developments so that they can provide their customers with the most updated and correct information possible.”

What does the future hold for pharmacies?

“As in the past, challenges are stimulating and will only make you stronger and more successful. Only by continuing to help people get healthy and stay healthy can we really define that mix of chemicals that make up drugs as medicine rather than just another type of merchandise.”