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Bridging Digital Innovation and Pharmacy Care


Episode Summary

In this episode of Behind the Growth, Imran Mian hosts Aaron Cheng, VP of Digital Health at Shoppers Drug Mart, to dive into the transformative power of digital health in pharmacy care. Aaron shares his journey from a career in engineering and digital products, through various startups, to his current role. He emphasizes the significant impact digital solutions like the PC Health app are making in Canadian healthcare, improving patient care and streamlining healthcare delivery.

Aaron discusses the challenges and opportunities in integrating digital health into traditional pharmacy models. He highlights the importance of a patient-centric approach, leveraging technology to enhance accessibility and efficiency in healthcare services. Aaron’s insights reveal the potential of digital innovations to revolutionize healthcare, making it more responsive and accessible to patients’ needs.

The conversation sheds light on the future of healthcare, where digital tools and AI promise to create a more connected, efficient, and patient-focused healthcare ecosystem. Aaron’s experience and vision for digital health illustrate the crucial role of technology in advancing healthcare and improving outcomes for patients across Canada.

Featured Guest

  • Name: Aaron Cheng
  • What he does: VP of Digital Health
  • Company: Shoppers Drug Mart
  • Noteworthy: Aaron Cheng, VP of Digital Health at Shoppers Drug Mart, is a seasoned executive celebrated for spearheading dynamic technical teams and fostering groundbreaking innovation in the digital landscape. Formerly the Chief Product Officer at Felix Health, Aaron’s expertise converges on consumer fintech, digital marketplaces, and enterprise digital solutions.

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Key Insights

Digital Health Revolutionizes Patient Care
Aaron’s journey from the startup world to Shoppers Drug Mart underscores a significant shift in healthcare, emphasizing digital health’s role in transforming patient care. Through the integration of digital tools like the PC Health app, Aaron outlines a vision where healthcare is not only more accessible but also tailored to individual needs. This approach leverages technology to enhance the traditional pharmacy model, providing a seamless experience that combines the best of both digital and physical healthcare services.

AI Enhances Healthcare Efficiency
Aaron discusses the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare, particularly in automating administrative tasks to allow healthcare professionals to focus more on patient care. He highlights the high standards required for AI in healthcare, emphasizing the need for accuracy and privacy. This insight reflects on AI’s initial utility in backend operations, projecting its future role in creating more patient-facing applications that could revolutionize the efficiency and quality of care provided to patients.

Overcoming Digital Health Adoption Challenges
The transition towards digital health has not been without challenges, as Aaron reflects on the lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. He shares how Shoppers Drug Mart navigated the rapid need for digital solutions, such as online appointment bookings and the rollout of minor ailment treatments through pharmacies. Aaron’s narrative provides a candid look at how pharmacies adapted to meet the urgent needs of the moment, setting the stage for future innovations in healthcare delivery.

Everyone's heard the stats of anywhere from 15 to 20% of Canadians don't have access to primary care physicians. And as care providers reach retirement and age out, that will just become worse.

Episode Highlights

Aaron’s Journey to Digital Health

Aaron Cheng’s career transition from the tech and startup world into digital health showcases the unique blend of experiences that shaped his approach to healthcare innovation. Initially resistant to the healthcare sector, his journey through various tech roles, including a significant stint at startups like Flip and a digital banking startup, highlighted the potential for digital transformation in healthcare, mirroring the disruptions he observed in banking and e-commerce. Aaron’s move to Shoppers Drug Mart was driven by the opportunity to leverage digital solutions for large-scale healthcare improvements.

“Near the end of my IBM tenure, I kind of realized […] I was still spending maybe half my time dealing internally […] rather than thinking through how do we better serve our customers. How do we build a better product?”

The Role of Digital Tools in Pharmacy Expansion

Aaron discusses the expanded role of pharmacists, enhanced by digital tools, to include treatment for minor ailments, showcasing the evolving scope of pharmacy practice. This shift not only improves patient access to care but also exemplifies the integration of digital health solutions into traditional pharmacy models. By enabling pharmacists to address conditions like pink eye directly, digital health innovations are streamlining healthcare delivery and making care more accessible.

“You can just go into a pharmacy on the same day, talk to a pharmacist, get the right care. You need to get a prescription and then fill it right on the spot. So, those are kind of experiences that we’re managed to enable, and that’s really been a whole sea change.”

Integration of Digital Health into Everyday Pharmacy Practice

Aaron highlights Shoppers Drug Mart’s investments in both digital and physical infrastructures to enhance patient care, including the development of private consultation rooms and the implementation of digital scheduling tools. These enhancements reflect a broader trend toward integrating digital health solutions into everyday pharmacy practice, offering a more personalized and efficient patient experience.

“We made investments to remodel a lot of our pharmacies across the country where we actually build real consultation rooms with right equipment, with the right expertise there to really provide that environment.”

Future of Digital Health in Pharmacy

Looking ahead, Aaron envisions a future where digital health is seamlessly integrated with traditional pharmacy services, eliminating redundant processes and improving the efficiency of healthcare delivery. Drawing parallels with the banking industry’s digital transformation, he anticipates similar advancements in healthcare, where patients enjoy a more streamlined and connected care experience.

“But I think during COVID, as a lot of Canadians, you start to think a lot more about the fragility of our healthcare system and what can be done there. In many ways, healthcare reminded me a lot of the banking industry in terms of being super highly regulated.”

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