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Our first digital products

How we’re starting to build Well Digital.

I’m Dan. I’ve joined to lead the build phase of Well Digital, the in-house tech startup we launched last month inside the UK’s largest independent chain of pharmacies.

For the past few years I’ve been helping government and the NHS to go digital. At the Government Digital Service, we helped to deliver better services for millions of people while saving billions.

But, in reality, we were playing catch up. Government services were falling short of people’s raised expectations: we all now expect things to be quicker, easier and on-demand.

In healthcare — despite the huge ambitions for digital transformation — we are even further behind. There are many reasons for this: medicine is complex, patient safety is (rightly) paramount and services are fragmented.

The stakes couldn’t be higher. The costs of healthcare are spiraling worldwide — in developed countries like the UK we spend nearly 10% of our GDP on care, while in developing countries populations are being priced out of healthcare altogether.

This is why I work in this space:** there’s no bigger challenge**.

I’m interested in ways to make healthcare better for less money and improve access for everyone. I’ve written before about the role digital has to play in this, and what we need to do to make sure that a digital healthcare system works for patients and clinicians.

Like Chris, I’m excited about the opportunity we have at Well to help solve some of these big challenges and bring pharmacy into the digital age. I think Well is in a brilliant position to make this a reality.

We’re improving our store finder

At Well Digital, we have a bias for action: we learn far more by shipping and testing products that writing reports. So, as well as thinking about the digital future of Well, we’ve started to build it.

The first thing we’re doing is improving our store finder.

1_MqYGxUPGRuybEQ8Nua5aMw Kayleigh and the store finder team on day one of the project

We decided quickly that store finder would be a good exemplar project: the current one isn’t fit for purpose and is not a great start in the journey if a customer can’t find us. We think we can deliver within weeks something that helps customers and colleagues.

As our first product, it will also help us think about how we design and deliver digital services across Well.

The store finder team started last week and is made up of of designers, coders and Well staff. We think it’s important to bring together different expertise in the same team, working together.

It’s been crucial to have people working with us like Kayleigh, who looks after the current store finder on the website and understands more than most how it can improve.

Emma, our product owner, heads up central operations — the team that acts as a bridge between HQ and our stores, making sure everything runs smoothly. She’s in the best position to make sure we get the store finder right.

We’ve already made rapid progress. We’ve started to wrangle with the data and understand how our current finder works.

This week the team will be out in stores speaking to customers and colleagues to understand why people come to our stores, and what we can do to help them.

Pretty quickly, it’s become clear that** this is bigger than just a store finder.** For starters, there are loads of people inside and outside Well who depend on accurate store data, but right now they are working from different lists. And for our customers choosing a store isn’t always straightforward: location, services, facilities and staff all play a part. We need to understand the whole experience — not just the bit where customers use the store finder on our website.

So we’ve set our mission (at least for now) as helping people to access Well services. This is broad, but gives us room to explore problems and solutions before narrowing in on tangible products we can deliver over the next few weeks.

We’ll be tracking our progress on this blog, and also in our show and tells at 11AM every Thursday — all colleagues welcome.

What’s next?

Alongside building our first product, we’ve been meeting with people across Well to figure out what our digital priorities are.

Last week, we presented to the Well Exec team. We had a great discussion on what digital means to Well, our plans over the next few months and how we equip ourselves as a business to deliver the kind of services our customers expect.

From these conversations, it’s clear there are an almost endless number of digital opportunities for Well. A traditional digital transformation programme would write a lengthy business case and establish a large number of workstreams, most of which would never deliver on their lofty promises.

We’re not going to do that. We’ve decided to focus on a small number of areas where we think we can deliver real value to customers and the business over the next few months:

1. Take the hassle out of prescriptions for our customers

Prescriptions are the main part of our business, and the primary reason customers come to our stores.

We think there is lots we can do improve the way prescriptions work using better design and technology: from customers who get their repeat prescriptions delivered to their home by us, to people who pop into one of stores with a one-off prescription.

In the next couple of weeks, we’ll be kicking off a discovery to understand user needs, map the current service and identify opportunities to remove pain points and deliver new a better prescriptions service for customers.

2. Build new digital healthcare businesses.

Our traditional business is in community pharmacy, but over the past few years we’ve also been delivering health services in our stores like flu jabs and providing a technology-enabled pharmacy service to 500 care homes.

Looking to the future, we will look for areas where we can develop new digital healthcare services that fit with our values and our strengths. We’re not the first to suggest that pharmacies have a bigger role to play in the provision of care, but we think we are in a good position to deliver on this promise by combining our footprint in communities and the expertise of our pharmacists with new technologies.

We’re going to be running a discovery on this, too, to understand what our customers need and what we’re best placed to provide.

3. Give colleagues time back to provide care for patients.

Our store colleagues are our biggest asset — they are expert and they understand our customers better than anyone else.

But too often, they spend time serving processes rather than people.

To be able to improve our prescriptions service and provide new kinds of services, we need to free colleagues from repetitive, paper based processes.

Our investment in automated dispensing of repeat prescriptions is an example of the kind of thing we want to do to resolve this. But there’s much more we can do.

Over the next few months, we’ll be working with stores to identify pain points for colleagues and building better tools to help them work smarter.


Think of these as experiments: we are going to design, test and iterate in each one of these areas. If they turn out to be the wrong priorities, we are agile enough to be able to quickly identify this and shift our focus to areas of more value.

If you have any ideas, or would like to get involved in any of this, please drop us a line.

Working with Common Good and Infinity Works

To deliver on our ambitions, we’re building a world-class digital team.

So, as we mentioned in the last blog, we are hiring. If you want to join us, please get in touch.

We’re also really pleased to announce that we’re working with two top-notch digital delivery partners.

Common Good are a design studio who have worked with NHS Blood and Transplant, Canyon and the Co-op. They will be helping us with user research, design and product strategy on store finder and our prescriptions discovery.

Infinity Works specialise in software engineering. They’ve spent the past few years helping NHS Digital, Sky Bet and others to build better software and work smarter. They will be working on store finder and helping us define our broader technology approach.

Both are home-grown northern success stories — albeit from different sides of the Pennines! — and we’re really lucky to be working with them.

Lots done, lots still to do. That’s all for now.

Dan Sheldon
Head of Well Digital

Our first digital products
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