Want to know how to build your own pharmacy app?

So, you’ve decided that your pharmacy chain or pharmacy buying group needs its own app? Maybe you want it to open the door for you to take the whole pharmacy business online. At the very least you’d like your patients, or your pharmacy members’ patients, to be able to order their repeat prescriptions; the core of the pharmacy business, and help you earn additional revenue. 

Your options are either building your app with a software agency, building your own in-house, or building your white label app with an established pharmacy app platform like Healthera.

Let’s go through each of these options below.

 

1. Building your app with a software agency

This option looks very attractive at first glance. They might look at your requirements and offer you a quote that looks somewhat reasonable (somewhere in the 6 figures). They may even pitch it as almost a one-off cost; you get it built, then it’s yours forever, which always sounds great for the finance departments out there.

However, once you’ve started, you realise that that’s not the case. The app needs to be built from scratch, which could take 6-8 months even with only basic requirements. 

The agency may not know anything about your industry so if any requirements get missed, which happens often in software, the project will unfortunately get delayed. Hopefully, there will have been earlier negotiations that prevent you from being charged too much for the extra time taken.

If you finally made the cut on completing the app and the development has passed quality assurance, they will then need to go through a process to publish it on Apple and Google. You might then run the risk of being rejected if not submitting properly. After you launch the app, it’s still too early to celebrate. There is a lot of work ahead of you. Here are a few examples:

1. Performance tracking

You might not know how well your app will be performing after it has been launched, have you considered embedding Google analytics in it? Or any other paid analytics providers? Can you track how users behave on the app? All of those will cost extra from creative agencies.

2. Maintenance

New iPhone devices are rolled out each year and iOS is released every September, and they usually come with breaking changes. Is your app ready to be displayed and function well on those new devices and new OS? There will be extra to fix those compatibility issues. 

Finally the numbers are out, but uptake is incredibly low despite head office targets for branches to promote the app. Why is this? The app ecosystem, and the consumer mindset, are both incredibly fast-moving. Customers are divinely discontent.

A basic prescription requesting tool with some branding on it is unlikely to attract much usage. The NHS App already does this. Curious patients may order with you once through the app, but then if there is one glitch in the whole journey they might just drop it next time. It’s not really making their life or the pharmacist’s life any easier.

When you download the app yourself you may realise the not-so-subtle difference between using your app, and using one of the popular apps out there like Instagram and Uber, or an app that comes with your iPhone like Photos and Calendar. 

Why does your agency-built app feel so much clunkier, slower to load, and unnatural when making swipes and gestures? More often than not, agencies build apps that are essentially web browser pages in an app wrapper to save on time and cost. And users do notice. 

As a business, it’s great to say that you have an app, but you need something that intrinsically makes a customer want to use it over one of the existing leading healthcare or pharmacy apps out there.

You can, of course, request more changes. A traditional supplier will generally charge a large one-off fee to complete the app project, and when it’s complete, the service comes to an end and the app stops developing. Typically the apps are hacked together and not architected to facilitate new features, meaning each new feature will make the app buggier than before and slower to build.

 

2. Building your own app in-house

There is also the option of doing it all in-house. The first challenge isn’t technical - it’s building and training a team. 

Building an app isn't just a job for one or two app developers as it is not only what you see on the front end; there is a lot more that goes behind the scenes. There will be databases that host users and other relevant data, and the database needs to be hosted on the cloud (web). There will be APIs that communicate between the database and the App. There will be business logic/algorithms on both the backend and front end, and there needs to be a dashboard for your back office staff (CMS) to manage the content to be displayed on the front end app. 

A quick look at what this team should consist  of, as a minimum:

  • iOS Developer, 1 senior & 1 mid-level
  • Android Developer, 1 senior & 1 mid-level
  • Backend developer (node.JS or similar), 1 senior & 1 mid-level
  • Frontend developer, 2 mid-levels
  • QA Engineers, at least 2
  • Product managers, 1 senior & 1 junior
  • UI designers, 1 senior & 1 junior

This amounts to 14 full-time staff, which can be tricky to assemble. Most of the top technical talents prefer to work in technology companies, so recruitment and retention will always be a challenge. The team’s salaries, benefits, expenses and recruitment fees will cost £800,000 to £2 million per year. 

Even with this investment, there is no guarantee that the app will meet your business needs. Similarly with agency-built apps, the app may constantly be playing catch-up with moving customer demands.

The hardest part isn’t just assembling the team above. It’s the whole product management, project management, and Agile delivery process which need to be built, managed and constantly iterated so that the team has any chance of delivering good results on time. It will be extraordinarily tricky if you don’t have anyone in-house that has specifically done this before many times over.

You may realise that if these engineers are shared between the app project and other internal IT requirements, you will constantly find it hard to move forward with resource constraints outside of your control.

With all these ongoing components and ongoing challenges to building a modern consumer software product in-house, be prepared to make a big investment over many years. But also be aware of the risk that even with these investments, the project isn’t a vending machine; it’s more fickle and unpredictable than any slot machine.

 

3. Working with Healthera 

The final option is working with Healthera. You can either launch your entire pharmacy organisation within the Healthera app on a monthly fee per pharmacy branch, or you can launch your own white label branded version of the app within 3-5 weeks. Your pharmacies would still be listed on the Healthera app if you go for the white label version, which is a neat benefit.

An ecosystem that took several years and millions of pounds invested to build

Just take the prescription processing journey as an example; there are three parties in the picture.

Every pharmacy likes to operate slightly differently. How do they want to notify patients of status changes? How do they handle payments? How do they organise delivery trips? Patients also have different preferences when it comes to their medicine. And GPs (as well as their commissioning bodies) have specific requirements and preferences when receiving prescription requests. 

To take all of these into account, we have built more than 300 permutations of the repeat prescription journey to take care of all possible scenarios. When we rebranded our whole app in early 2021, we counted over 200 separate screens that were necessary to capture all the cases. We have around 12 different integrations with NHS systems and third-party technology platforms to make the current feature set possible. 

In-house tech and product team

It takes a great team to deliver a true industry-leading platform. Our technology and product team are hired out of the tech hub of Cambridge, and our tech team leaders have spent years developing digital products and services in both the pharmacy and retail e-commerce industries. Our team members have deployed consumer apps and web services used by millions of consumers and some of the largest brands in pharmacy and retail.

Developing the fundamental features, infrastructure and analytics described above are only a starting point. We operate our team into squads which allows us to build along multiple fronts in parallel.

For example, one squad may be focused on improving the core prescriptions journey and user experience, adding bespoke integrations to our portfolio. Another squad may be trailblazing with new concepts that add to our pharmacy partner’s competitiveness and additional dimensions to the patient experience.

With our squads working in parallel under an Agile delivery process, we churn out feature releases every few weeks, and several major updates every quarter, ensuring our customers stay extremely competitive in their digital offerings. 

Gaining adoption and revenue through our brand and marketing

While pharmacies on Healthera send out thousands of invites each day to bring their existing patients onboard, around 40% of our new registrations don’t come from a pharmacy invite. In other words, these 40% of patients find out about the app through hearing about it from friends, from their GPs or CCG promoting the app, from searching on Google, and other ways. In many cases, they are new patients and new nominations for our pharmacies to grow their business. We also run our own digital marketing campaigns to drive awareness for the brand, which also attracts downloads. 

We have implemented many marketing analytics tools, both third party integrations and in-house developed data capabilities, to measure the effectiveness of each of these channels, sharing insight with our pharmacy partners.

Our white label apps come with the same marketing analytics capabilities, which means that if you invested in marketing your own app, you will be able to track the return on investment for each campaign.

Cost-effectiveness

The financial benefit of being a part of the ecosystem is quite clear. Like any platform business, the budget to continue to maintain and build the Healthera platform is pooled from our entire customer base, meaning that you only have to contribute very little to enjoy the best. 

Because white label apps take some additional configuration time and maintenance effort to ensure that it stays up to date with the core platform, we charge a transparent one-off fee to go live which is a tiny fraction of the costs of the first two options. 

What’s most important to a business is knowing that we have eliminated all the risks for you. The Healthera app, and each white label app we deploy, rate 4.7 - 4.8 stars on App Store and Google Play, and our average in-app rating of the overall experience (pharmacy service and app) is over 4.7, with many top pharmacies scoring 4.9 or even 5. There’s nothing more reassuring than to see that patients consistently vote the same way throughout the years and throughout all the apps we support.