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Leveraging Digital Tools as a Pharmacist: An Interview

Virtual Rx Team had a chat with Pharmacist Ifeoluwa, Pharm_Ife, where she shared insight into practicing as an online pharmacist, and the prospects of online pharmacies in Nigeria.

Can you tell us what you do in simple terms?

What I do in simple terms – I share health tips online using mainly Instagram and WhatsApp, sometimes Facebook. I share health tips and I discuss common health conditions from a pharmacist’s perspective. I also share lifestyle tips – tips that people can employ to prevent them from coming down with certain illnesses.

Most importantly, I prescribe medicines. Not generally on the platforms, but I offer private consultation sessions via direct message on Instagram and Whatsapp.

I also offer delivery services of medicines across the country, especially to people in Ibadan. So, that is basically what I do.

What are the biggest challenges you face as an online consultant?

First off, I would say it’s creating content consistently. I use my phone to create graphic content, audio content and video content, and it gets quite challenging. Most times, the content comes to me naturally, but deciding which content should be an audio, a video, or written text, is a challenge that I face, but I’m trying to find ways around it, but sometimes it really gets to me. 

Another thing is, having to navigate people thinking I render free services. When I first started, I decided to do certain things free of charge as a way to validate what I’m doing. But as time went by, I saw people taking it for granted – how they would come to you for consultation and you prescribe, then they go ahead and get the medication elsewhere. I am trying to help you get your drugs from the comfort of wherever you are, and save you the stress of moving around physically, but there are people who think these things should be free.

There was a lady that messaged me to ask me questions regarding infertility and getting pregnant. I told her she was going to pay a certain amount, and she replied asking why would I tell her to pay, and that I’m not empathetic. I told her that whatever information I have on the page is free enough. And that if you deem it fit to consider my opinions on your health matters, you’d have to pay for consultation services.

So yes, those are my biggest challenges thus far.

What can you say is the biggest problem within the medication distribution chain in Nigeria?

The fact that medicines are everywhere. Like, you can just walk in and obtain medicines over the counter, even prescription-only medicine. Everything has been muddled, and Nigerians get drugs from hawkers, on the streets, and we even “cut” medicines. You know, buying just one tablet – one capsule of antibiotics, one tablet of pain reliever, and maybe one tablet of a vitamin and believing that is all what they need for the illness they are trying to treat. No prescription. Nothing.

Quacks holding medicine, having a grip on medicine. The medication chain in Nigeria is not premeditated. There’s no straight line. You cannot say for certain that this is where this drug came from. I think this is the biggest challenge in the medication distribution chain in Nigeria, which has really gone far or posed a risk to the healthcare system in Nigeria.

How do you think pharmacies can better leverage social media and the internet generally to increase their revenue? 

A large number of Nigerians are on social media. Pharmacies can leverage social media to reach their clients better or reach a wider range of clients. For instance, a physical pharmacy can be somewhere and somebody within a 3 kilometer, 4 kilometer range of the pharmacy does not know they exist. So with social media you can target people that are around you, on Facebook, on Instagram, on Twitter, you can target people that around you such that they know that you exist, and they walk in, whether talk to you virtually or you know walk into the pharmacy and pick up their medicines or make consultations depending on what they need.

Pharmacies can leverage social media to get in more customers, to get in more clients to see their products, to see what they do, they can also reach people virtually. You are not limited to where you are physically, your physical location, you can consult a patient across states, you can also deliver medicines across states.

Another thing is that you can use social media to build loyalty. I am of the opinion that WhatsApp is a good platform to build trust and loyalty.

So as a pharmacy, apart from using Instagram and Facebook to get new clients, you can also build the trust and loyalty of your existing clients through WhatsApp. You can open a WhatsApp group and share health tips with them. It is a way of keeping your pharmacy at the top of their minds as WhatsApp is a more commonly used platform compared to other social media platforms. You can encourage them to save your phone number so that they can see your status updates.

I believe that every pharmacy in Nigeria or every pharmacy in this age should have an Android phone with a dedicated official WhatsApp number. That way you can push your products and discount sales and offers on your status.

Pharmacies can also host live classes around health conditions, disease conditions in certain periods and health awareness days like World Health Day, World Malaria Day and the likes. All to the end of making the gospel of great healthcare known to more people. This is a robust way to increase your customer loyalty, which will in turn increase your revenue

Do you worry about the digital space being crowded with online pharmacies?

Well, I’m not worried about it because the sky is big enough for everyone to fly. However, my concern is that the online pharmacies should be run by licensed pharmacists.

I believe proper checks should be done to make sure we do not give room to what we’re trying to avoid – physical “pharmacies” run by charlatans carrying medicine all around or having access to medicine.

Also, there is the issue of access. Some drugs are strictly prescription medications. I believe another worry I have is clients liaising with online pharmacies to get several prescriptions that would be otherwise unavailable to them.

What digital tools do you think every pharmacy should use?

Like I mentioned earlier, every pharmacy should have an Android phone. Also, another basic thing to have is a website. Having a website is good but I believe that people still want to have a personal feeling, and that is where social media comes in. Every pharmacy should have an Instagram handle, a Facebook page or Facebook profile, and a WhatsApp number.

This is so that the pharmacy can have multiple communication methods to interact with their customers. So basically those are the digital tools that I think every pharmacy should have in this age and century.

Thank you for this opportunity.

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