Pharmacy is often the first port of call for women for healthcare advice, more so than for men, according to the results of last year’s Department of Health consumer research. The research also showed women will often visit the pharmacy not just for themselves, but for their partner’s and their children’s health.
â€œCompared to men, women tend to take a more active role in their health,â€ says Elaine Evers, pharmacy manager at Lichpharm Midcounties
Co-operative Pharmacy in Staffordshire. To build on that customer loyalty â€œcommunity pharmacy must reinforce a caring image and ensure their customers recognise them as a one-stop shop for all their health and beauty needsâ€, advises Rob Jackson, UK pharmacy shopper based design manager for P&G PharmacyCare.
Pharmacists also need to be up to speed with the fast pace of change in women’s health products. Increasingly more medicines are becoming available without a prescription; for example, tranexamic acid is now available through pharmacies under the brand name Cyklo-F, for women with a history of regular heavy menstrual bleeding.
As well as being knowledgeable about the women’s products they sell, pharmacists should also offer further advice and information as appropriate, advises Ms Evers. â€œThere’s a lot of confusion and misinformation about women’s health conditions out there, so pharmacists can help by giving evidence-based advice on treating or reducing symptoms of women’s health conditions, such as the menopause, or by checking that cystitis remedies are suitable for the individual patient.â€
Pharmacists are also well placed to identify warning symptoms such as pain or bleeding after intercourse and to signpost women to the appropriate source of support, such as their GP or family planning clinic, says Boots pharmacist Angela Chalmers, who manages the multiple’s Holloway Road branch in London.
As well as focusing on symptoms and cures, Ms Chalmers stresses the importance of giving lifestyle advice to women. â€œIt’s not just about offering tablets â€“ it’s about â€˜how can I add to the quality of life of this woman through, say, advice about nutrition or by looking at their emotional wellbeing?
She adds: â€œAs pharmacists we should never underestimate the power of giving customers good advice. The woman you spend time with who wants a discreet word about a condition will trust you and tell her friends.â€
Mum‘s the word
Discretion is a key word for women’s healthcare, agrees Emma Charlesworth, Numark’s retail excellence manager. â€œFeminine health is sometimes a bit of a taboo subject, and is often seen as quite an embarrassing topic to discuss.
â€œAlways remember that your customers may also be feeling this strain so remember to be discreet and compassionate.â€
Women may feel embarrassed talking about common complaints such as thrush and cystitis, so Ms Chalmers advises pharmacists to promote the consultation room as a place where women can discuss these and other health issues in private and in confidence. Pharmacists should also ensure staff are trained to be discreet and to be empathetic with their customers so they understand what they are comfortable discussing, she believes.
â€œSome women are fine to ask for a combi thrush treatment over the counter, while others don’t particularly want to use the â€˜T’ word, so you need to gauge what their needs are,â€ she says.
Pharmacies can also play a vital role in raising awareness about such sensitive conditions like cystitis. According to Angela Lloyd, marketing manager for Actavis UK which last month launched a digital and social media campaign for its cystitis brand Cymalon the condition is an â€œuntapped market where consumers are dealing with it in different ways not realising that there is treatment out thereâ€.
Many women expect pharmacies to stock specialist products to meet their needs, says Susan Woodhead, category insight controller at Lil-lets. â€œWithin sanitary protection, this may mean those women with heavy periods, older women, women post-birth or mums seeking advice for daughters,â€ she says. Ms Chalmers stresses the importance of pharmacy having the right selection of all different flow types and of stocking big brand products that customers can buy while doing other medicines shopping.
Women’s categories, P&G’s Mr Jackson advises, should be located away from the men’s section to enable men and women to browse the relevant fixtures without embarrassment. Pharmacists may also want to create a women’s or beauty section, with associated categories, such as skin, hair cosmetics, feminine care and fertility, he suggests.