Remote working for Pharmacy

April 22, 2020
6 minute read
Dr Jonathan Forbes

For any company in the current situation, having an ability to adapt is essential in order to sustain and grow your operations. For many, this means adapting to working remotely. This was a situation that our online pharmacy faced as well. Phlo Digital Pharmacy’s Chief Technology Officer Dr. Jonathan Forbes shares some insights into recent developments which have ensured that our patients’ continue to receive the medication they need.  

The COVID-19 crisis has certainly thrown into sharp relief how quickly businesses must be able to react to rapidly changing circumstances. And it's amazing what can happen when you get some like-minded people together to solve a problem.  

Phlo's bread and butter are our pharmacy operations. We've some great technology and a dedicated, talented engineering team that iterates, refines and delivers our latest product ideas. But the goal of all of that is to get the right medicines into the right people's hands via our pharmacy operations as quickly and efficiently as we can, all the while keeping things safe and secure whether you are a patient, one of our pharmacists or one of our support team.  

With coronavirus cases accelerating and London in lockdown, Phlo adopted a 'Red/Blue' model so that our pharmacists can support each other wherever they are. A Red/Blue model means having one group of people working onsite - the Red team - supported by their colleagues working remotely - the Blue team - handling work that doesn't need a physical presence in a specific location.  

As many people now appreciate, pharmacists are key healthcare workers. I should really write that last bit with capitals as it’s so important. Ensuring they can all work together securely wherever they are needs some lateral thinking as pharmacists use heavily-secured IT systems. You need to be an approved NHS pharmacist just to get the tools needed to log in. And of course, we layer additional security controls on top. So, for a pharmacist to operate effectively away from their pharmacy takes some thought.  

Phlo's engineers and pharmacists got together - virtually - with the experts at Digital Orchard IT to invent ways that our Blue team pharmacists could work securely to support their Red team colleagues working onsite in our pharmacy, whether that is taking phone calls, responding to patients' queries or arranging real-time, same-day deliveries of medication to our patients. 

So how did we implement remote working for our pharmacists, safely and securely?  

Our first port of call was our local online IT shop. Guess what, supplies of NHS-spec card readers were low in stock. Someone big is likely out shopping, you can probably guess who. Some wheeling, dealing, ducking, diving and searching in drawers and lockers later, smartcard readers were on their way.  

One of our ops team uses a Mac and pharmacy software doesn’t play nicely with Apple software, So off we went to find a Windows laptop. You'll know what's coming next - what's the one thing people need to buy most of when a national workforce suddenly needs to work from home? Yes, laptops. We saw suitable stock disappear overnight. Word went out across our professional networks and thankfully, a suitable machine was sourced.  

We started the 'plumbing work' on a Tuesday, late afternoon. Thanks to the team at Digital Orchard IT (shout out to Simon McCullagh and Denis Primc) we had an enterprise-class VPN set up and tested by Wednesday lunchtime. We rolled it out to one of our pharmacy team for a field trial on the Thursday morning.   

In parallel, we worked with the suppliers of our specialist patient management system to make sure they could deploy their software to our pharmacists' machines and we could operate it securely. Their experts reviewed our approach and planned a deployment for the following day.  

Testing followed and by Friday we had our first pharmacist working remotely from home and helping out his colleagues. Remaining team members followed at their own pace. I'm hugely grateful for the help we got from our engineers and our technology partners and for the patience, flexibility and time that our pharmacy team gave us to make it work. If someone could invent a virtual standing ovation, I'd be deploying it here.   


Dr. Jonathan Forbes

Chief Technology Officer, Phlo Digital Pharmacy 

Phlo is currently hiring for a full stack engineer to join our technology team. If you’d like to work at the forefront of innovation in the pharmacy sector and the wider health-tech sector you can apply here.

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