For the United Kingdom’s biggest online pharmacy, alongside clinical excellence, unique technology is key to delivering effortless services to patients. So, when the coronavirus hit, Pharmacy2U successfully undertook a rapid expansion of services and accelerated its cloud native migration plans, with New Relic’s observability platform playing a crucial role to ensure patients received their correct repeat prescriptions without delay.
Launched online in 1999 to reinvent pharmacy care, Pharmacy2U helped develop the Electronic Prescription Service for the NHS, the United Kingdom’s public health care service. It has become the largest online pharmacy in the United Kingdom and supports more than 500,000 patients each year with their NHS repeat prescriptions.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, Pharmacy2U’s services became even more critical, as the NHS responded to the crisis and at-risk patients needed to shelter at home.
As Pharmacy2U Technical Solutions Architect Dan Brown explains, the business had to respond quickly to a surge in demand: ‘In the last six months, we've pretty much doubled in size and become a lifeline for people who’ve had to shield themselves. Whether it's blood pressure tablets or diabetes or whatever the condition, patients have been able to order these repeat prescriptions online and delivered through their letterbox.’
However, this sudden growth hasn’t come without challenges. Like all UK pharmacies, Pharmacy2U is regulated by the General Pharmaceutical Council and the Care Quality Commission and must ensure the highest standards of clinical safety.
‘Our clinical accuracy is industry leading. As we rapidly expand and scale our operations, we must maintain this high standard.’
Monitoring systems to deliver such a vital service is critical and drove the decision to choose New Relic and its New Relic One platform.
‘When I joined, there was a gaping hole where we didn’t really understand the performance of our systems well enough’, Brown explains. ‘For me, we didn’t know how fast our transactions were running, what was going on at the frontend browsers or inside the infrastructure. It was hard to see how we were going to scale without the detailed visibility and intelligence that I knew New Relic One could give us.’
For Brown and his team, real-time and comprehensive observability through New Relic One was essential when the business had to move extremely quickly to handle the sudden surge in online prescriptions and new customers during lockdown and after.
‘Understanding our customers’ actual experience of the service is hugely important, especially when so many of them are elderly and may be using a digital service for the first time’, says Brown. ‘We went to massive lengths to support our patients. One of the key things we saw with some of our competitors is [that] patients couldn't get on their websites and there was queuing. With the pandemic, we saw a huge increase on load on the website pretty much overnight, and New Relic One really helped us understand what was happening in our systems. This enabled us to react quickly to issues and deliver the more robust, stable systems even as demand exploded. As a result, we were able to say that we were up 100% of the time and didn’t stop welcoming new or existing patients throughout the lockdown period.’
The need to respond to the pandemic came as Pharmacy2U invested in new technology to improve the performance and digital experience even more. In fact, the business was halfway through a migration to Microsoft Azure when lockdown started, and cloud computing played a crucial role in scaling up the operations.
New Relic is used to monitor and analyse the progress of this migration, which also involves redeveloping the key architecture to a more microservices-based architecture, says Brown.
‘As we progress on our journey from on-premise to public cloud, New Relic gives us real-time performance testing of the new infrastructure and microservices we’re building to help us grow. Being able to analyse this quickly is important, as how can you scale without some science behind it? Previously you would have had to wait for performance testing results, but with New Relic One you get reports and comparison tests back straight away that go into much greater detail.’