The complementary-medicine industry is continuing on its growth trajectory as Australian consumers are taking a more proactive approach to their health and wellbeing.
With more than two-thirds of Australian’s using complementary medicines, the industry has seen a yearly increase of four per cent with projected revenue of $4.6 billion in the 2017-2018 financial year.[i]
Complementary medicines are distributed to 5,500 pharmacies, 3,500 supermarkets and 1,500 health food stores[ii] in Australia, with out-of-pocket expenses on complementary health now higher than prescription pharmaceuticals.[iii]
Two leading industry experts believe the new digitally informed consumer is integral to the transformation and innovation of this industry.
Blackmores ANZ Managing Director and retail expert Dave Fenlon discusses the trends transforming the demand for natural health in Australia.
Researcher and Blackmores Institute Director Dr Lesley Braun offers insights into how health professionals can update their knowledge about complementary medicine and keep pace with tech-savvy consumers looking for natural approaches to health and wellbeing.
Consumers power complementary-medicines performance
“Consumers are more focused than ever when it comes to their personal health journeys,” Blackmores ANZ Managing Director Dave Fenlon said. “They are increasingly thinking proactively and holistically about preventative solutions, rather than just treatment, subsequently driving growth within the complementary medicine industry.
“As an industry, we need to work in collaboration with our consumers and pharmacists to support quality use of complementary medicines, which are personalised to the individual.
“With today’s continuously evolving digital environment providing access to healthcare through new channels, consumers are now seeking information online, as well as in-store. Putting the customer at the centre, and focusing on their personalised care is pivotal to the continued growth of the industry and steps towards better health outcomes.
“It is all about putting their interests at the heart of what we do and providing innovative ways to reach into their world, rather than asking them to come into ours.”
Blackmores took a big step into this arena at the start of 2017 when it launched the Blackmores Well Bot. This ‘digital wellbeing coach’ used innovative artificial-intelligence technology to allow consumers to engage in realistic, personalised conversations about their health.
“We know consumers are interacting online more than ever before, and by moving some of our naturopathic conversations into this environment, the Blackmores Well Bot was able to engage in over 30,000 interactions with the public,” Mr Fenlon said.
“When you put the consumer at the core of your strategy, business can be transformed, whether you are a multinational or a small community pharmacy.
“For example, we know 93 per cent of consumers support complementary medicine and often they prefer to buy products at pharmacies where they can ask for advice from the supervising pharmacist or pharmacy assistant.[iv]
“We also know consumers are digitally savvy and better informed on health issues before they even arrive at the pharmacist.
“Our job is to ensure pharmacy teams have the right knowledge and the confidence to advise their consumers, ultimately ensuring success for both them and the pharmacy business.”
Importance of pharmacy in frontline care
Fenlon believes the role of a pharmacy store is more important than ever for healthcare advice, especially with the increased accessibility of the internet. Pharmacists are the second most trusted professionals in Australia, according to a 2017 national telephone survey.
.[i] The survey found pharmacists had an approval rating of 86 per cent.
“Pharmacists are vital to our health journey and pharmacy assistants are often the first touchpoint for consumers,” Mr Fenlon said. “We need to ensure we are upskilling and providing relevant training to help them better advise consumers who are often confused by information they have found online.”
In response to this, Blackmores has launched a state-of-the art online learning platform, Blackmores Academy, for both pharmacists and pharmacy assistants.
In recent years there has been an explosion of e-tech applications in health education for both consumers and professionals. Pharmacy and healthcare schools are rapidly moving to digital platforms, as are continuing professional development programs, to avoid being left behind.
Blackmores Institute Director Dr Lesley Braun says online education applications, like Blackmores Institute Education, are leading the e-learning revolution.
“Education providers are increasingly turning to e-technologies and mobile applications to cater for today’s time-poor healthcare practitioners,” she said.
“We’ve seen the rise of flexible open-learning courses, which offer ‘micro-credentials’ like digital badges and ‘nano-degrees’.
“Nano-degrees offer shorter, ‘snackable’ modules of education, delivered when you need them and where you want to learn.
“These intense bursts of learning are reshaping skill development for employees and employers.
“Time-strapped employees and results-orientated employers are driving the push for micro-learning. And it’s extremely effective when delivered in the context of your job and your career goals. Companies like Google have led the rise of this trend in learning.
“With more than 10,000 complementary medicines available in Australia,[ii] the demand and proliferation of products is placing added pressure on health professionals to stay educated and keep up to date with new clinical evidence.
“A study conducted by the University of Texas[iii] in the US found pharmacy students acknowledged the need to learn more about complementary medicine in order to effectively care for their customers.
“E-learning is a viable medium of conducting continuing pharmacy education, according to a study by Jagiellonian University in Poland.[iv]
“The Polish study found knowledge increased by 16 per cent after participation in the first e-course.
“Blackmores Institute Education is the only platform of its kind that centres specifically on evidence-based complementary medicine education.
“It’s peer-designed and aims to optimise treatment outcomes by providing evidence-based information about natural health and key ingredients, as a standalone treatment or in conjunction with conventional therapies. The platform is accessible on smart phones, designed for use anywhere, anytime and at the pharmacist’s own pace.
“It provides over 40 evidence-based educational courses, condition sheets, ingredient monographs and videos.”
It is estimated that video content will make up 80 per cent of internet traffic within the next few years and, by 2019, it will be the new standard in e-learning.[v]
“Based on this consumer trend, we have included lots of videos to accompany the traditional written content,” Ms Braun said.
The system’s videos are targeted to reinforce the learning modules and include an exclusive four-part course called ‘Fundamentals of Complementary Medicine Program’.
“All of the curriculum is delivered in a micro-learning format, fitting in with the most effective style of learning,” Ms Braun went on. “Our brains respond to short, focused, regular challenges that stretch our knowledge and, perhaps, even reward us for achievement.
“By offering multilingual, multimedia format education, we are removing language, time and accessibility barriers. This online system is also complemented by local face-to-face sessions and printable resources.”
This means healthcare professionals in regional and remote areas, or those in shift work, and those speaking other languages will have better access.
“Face to face learning will always have a place, but e-learning is a proven[vi] time-efficient way to deliver continuing pharmacy education and is highly accepted by pharmacists,” Ms Braun said. “This type of learning will still be accessible, and pharmacy staff will be able to enrol online to attend events near them.
“The Blackmores group, including the Blackmores Institute, is already a leader in its class for professional education.
“These innovations will provide more flexible e-learning options and create more knowledgeable healthcare teams and, as a result, better health outcomes for their communities.”
Blackmores is combining innovation and consumer-centricity to keep pace with today’s digitally savvy consumer, according to Mr Fenlon.
“Our innovation strategy is part of our corporate DNA. Ultimately, we believe it is central to our future success,” he said.
“Yesterday’s technology just isn’t going to cut it. We need data to inform our insights about the consumer, take time to understand their culture and then engage with them through the digital tools they use every day.
“In recent times, we’ve introduced collaborative consumer education programs and new e-commerce technologies, which span local, regional and global markets.
“We’ve launched cutting-edge technologies like the Blackmores Well Bot, which allows users to access a personalised digital ‘wellbeing’ coach via Facebook Messenger or SMS.
“All of our innovations are dynamic, allowing us to provide information suited to our audience, which spans all consumer groups, not just younger audiences. More than 65 per cent of our website visitors use their mobiles. We’re working to keep pace with the way our consumers live.
“These technologies allow us to truly connect the feedback from our consumers to everything we do – from product development to education.
 NHMRC CAM001 April 2014.
 Roy Morgan Research, 2015. Checking the Health of Australia’s Vitamin Market, Melbourne: Roy Morgan Research.
 NICM http://www.nicm.edu.au/health_information/information_for_consumers/understanding_c.
 Therapeutic Goods Regulation: Complementary Medicines, Australian National Audit Office.
 Phuoc Anne (Anh) Nguyen, Carolyn Brown, Pharmacy students’ experiences with herbals and their perceived importance of the topic in pharmacy education, Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, Volume 6, Issue 2, 2014, Pages 203-209, ISSN 1877-1297, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cptl.2013.11.004. [Keywords: Herbal supplements; Pharmacy students; Pharmacy education; Perceptions- https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cptl.2013.11.004.]