The healthcare landscape is undergoing a transformative shift, accelerated by technological advancements. In this respect, the Belgian public pharmacy sector is no exception. How can the officina pharmacist best prepare for 2030? And how can professional pharmacist associations within this complex ecosystem organise themselves to efficiently support the pharmacists of the future? Answering these research questions was the mission that the forward-thinking Association of Pharmacists Belgium (APB), the national federation of independent public pharmacists, undertook together with Tomorrowlab.

This two-layered research question – the role of the pharmacist at the one hand and the governance model within a complex healthcare ecosystem – was the starting point of a fascinating exploratory process, fueled by an outside-in approach and some introspection with regards to the current governance model.

The future role of the pharmacist through future foresight

In a first phase, we used the method of scenario planning in which we explored different possible futures with regard to the Belgian healthcare landscape, alongside the opportunities and challenges they might present for the public pharmacist. In order to gain valuable insights and to identify the “drivers of change” that characterise every scenario, we conducted interviews with top voices from within and outside the broader healthcare sector. These scenarios provided the stakeholders around the table with a common perspective on what the future might bring, a well-structured process to create a meaningful dialogue with all stakeholders. Through a series of interactive workshops with APB and the various local and regional professional associations, participants, most of them still active as public pharmacists, were inspired to think of alternative business models, strategies, and offerings of pharmacists.

More than the (societal) role that the public pharmacist will play in the future, we looked during this strategic foresight exercise at the specific services that need to be developed within the profession in order to remain economically and socially relevant in a highly volatile context. We also looked at the impact these new services will have on the pharmacist's business model, in particular any changes in activities, partnerships and resources needed to provide these services.

An efficient and effective governance model within a complex ecosystem

The above-mentioned scenario exercise showed a certain urgency for the diversification of current services offered by the pharmacist. In this context, an acceleration in the development of the profession seems appropriate. However, a thorough SWOT analysis from the current governance landscape - i.e. the professional associations supporting the public pharmacists at local, regional and federal level – made it clear that a new partnership between the various professional associations seems appropriate to better serve the pharmacist and the needed transition.

Together with the various professional associations we elaborated Design Principles for a more future-proof governance model, bearing in mind the future role of the pharmacist, elaborated in the first part of the exercise. An iterative process of divergence and convergence during the workshops and strategic conversations resulted in various governance options, ranging from a merger of all federal and regional entities to a network of existing legal entities. A timeline and actions for the transition towards this new governance model has been proposed, and can be used as a starting point for a dialogue within the broader ecosystem.

Photo: APB – Th. Strickaert

"The Belgian public pharmacist is gradually transforming from a product supplier to a personalised healthcare service provider. Professional pharmacist associations will also evolve to provide pharmacists with the best support in this transformation."

APB - Luc Adriaenssens