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Apollo Pharmacy CEO P Jayakumar says his fascination with pharmacology started in school, when he attended medical camps and observed the role of pharmacists in the healing process. “The pharmacist was dispensing medicines; counselling patients on dosages and telling them how to use medicines. I felt this profession had a noble cause and a clear purpose, which inspired me to take it up,” he shares.
Jayakumar went on to study the subject and joined Apollo Hospital in Chennai as a pharmacist in 1990. “I was handling store operations and that was my core and my passion – talking to customers, understanding their problems and giving them the medication prescribed by doctors. It was also about how we can counsel them, get them to take the right medication and send refill reminders to them,” he tells The CEO Magazine.
It was the vision of Padma Vibhushan Prathap C Reddy, the Chair of Apollo Hospitals, to make genuine medicines accessible to patients that saw the inception of Apollo Pharmacy as a hospital-based pharmacy in 1983.
“Until early 2000, we were operating around 100 retail pharmacies, adding on an average 30–40 new stores every year,” Jayakumar reveals. “To make Reddy’s vision of providing quality medicines round the clock to every nook and corner of the country a reality, Executive Vice Chair Shobana Kamineni decided on a course of faster penetration.
“An aggressive strategy of growth was pursued – an ambitious target to open 1,000 stores in 1,000 days and to create 1,000 crore [US$125.6 million] turnover was envisioned, and this herculean task was achieved. I am glad to be part of this mission.”
To continue growing rapidly as well as to stabilise the existing business operations, a new Build, Operate and Transfer division was set up. As division head, Jayakumar built thousands more new pharmacies with the help of his passionate team.
“We have built the entire Apollo ecosystem with the hospital and the healthcare services, which are your pharmacies, clinics, diagnostics, dialysis, home care, dental and so on.”
The vision to establish a presence at all touchpoints of the healthcare delivery chain, and strive for a uniform standard of quality in all these offerings, was the genesis of the integrated healthcare platform that Apollo Hospitals pioneered.
“As members of a pioneering organisation, we have always been at the forefront to improve the wellbeing of our great nation and have persevered to address the challenges faced by it,” Jayakumar says.
Apollo Pharmacy’s growth was triggered by the expansion of its parent organisation, Apollo Hospitals, which was spreading its presence to provide quality health care India-wide. Today there are around 75 Apollo hospitals with a capacity of 14,000 beds, and experts in different specialities.
“We have built the entire Apollo ecosystem with the hospital and the healthcare services, which are your pharmacies, clinics, diagnostics, dialysis, home care, dental and so on,” Jayakumar explains.
At the current count, Apollo Pharmacy has close to 5,000 stores in 1,000 cities across 22 states in India. “We generally open one store in India every 24 hours,” he says.
And it doesn’t stop there, with the launch of Apollo 24|7. “We are creating India’s largest omnichannel healthcare platform. Through this platform, we are connecting all the Apollo Services and ecosystem into one single platform as a single digital touchpoint for our customers,” Jayakumar explains.
“We are using online to augment the experience we offer to our community. Apollo pharmacies can now serve not just the community’s medicine needs but also help them through their entire journey towards continuum of care. This is our new power.
“Apollo’s hospitals, clinics, diagnostics, pharmacies, home care and condition management are now brought together in a single app to provide customers with the Apollo 24|7 experience. With omni, we can serve 50 per cent of India’s pin codes in less than 24 hours.”
Being in the business of medicine is not without its side effects. “Post-COVID, there is a lot of change in consumer buying patterns – people are looking for more value and wellness-related products. Our country is today faced with the rising burden of non-communicable diseases or lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancer and infections,” Jayakumar reflects.
So how does Apollo propose to overcome these challenges? “Apollo Pharmacy continues its extensive rollout across the country, with the unwavering promise of quality and exemplary customer service. We have successfully introduced several private-label products to give quality products at affordable prices. We are now focused on developing new formats that will facilitate services like doctor consultations, lab services and insurance-led products,” he explains.
“We bring a lot of consumer insights to our business to understand our customers better. Today it is not just a pharmacy that they need, but an entire spectrum of wellness and health care.”
Based on what it has learned over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Apollo Pharmacy has increased its focus on wellness medication and condition management, with new categories of products such as rehabilitation, immunity, vitamin health, minerals and supplements, and improved communication with customers.
“We bring a lot of consumer insights to our business to understand our customers better. Today it is not just a pharmacy that they need, but an entire spectrum of wellness and health care,” according to Jayakumar.
The company has also launched a need-of-the-hour program called We Care for Our Community. “We really believe in that, because we believe communities are the reason for our existence,” he says.