EDs, GPs, and community pharmacies need to overcome barriers to working together, writes Angel Gonzalez
There is no question that community pharmacies could play a more valuable role in health care, by providing a wide range of services in a timely, cost-effective manner.
However, to reach their full capabilities, community pharmacies have to overcome several barriers.
These barriers come in the form of regulations that serve to limit the scope of services that pharmacies can provide, reducing the capacity for expansion beyond that of merely dispensing pills.
The unjustified reason for this hurdle is the concern for patient safety, imposed by political pressure from physicians’ guilds.
Pharmacists are highly trained health professionals, knowledgeable about a range of medical conditions and capable of delivering advise, diagnostic, and treatment services. Customers have more contact with pharmacists than any other health-care provider and they highly value and appreciate their pharmacists’ advice.
The Roy Morgan Image of Professions Survey 2016 found that Australian pharmacists ranked second amongst all professionals as ‘an honest and ethical profession’ behind nurses, as equal to doctors, and ahead of dentists, judges, teachers, police members’, accountants, lawyers, and public servants. Consumers confidence represents a significant advantage.
Another barrier to expansion of services offered is organisational. Australian health care providers are reimbursed based on the number of the visits rather than on the outcomes.
Physicians and hospitals do not receive incentives to collaborate with pharmacists to address issues such as patient chronic compliance with their therapies.
Community pharmacies need to move toward more integration with the healthcare system, rather than functioning in parallel with it.
The integration could develop a hybrid health matrix, with community pharmacies serving as accessible retail hubs for the health care organisations, performing triage functions, offering primary care to customers with minor ailments and referring where necessary to general practitioners, specialists, or Emergency Departments.
This creates a win, win, win situation for everybody: the consumer (time and financial savings) : physicians (generation of foot traffic via referrals from community pharmacies): and community pharmacies (gaining increased patronage from Emergency Departments) and GP’s directing their patients with common, uncomplicated conditions to the pharmacy for quick, high quality, cost-effective attention.
Positioned as ‘Retail Health Centres,’ community pharmacies would focus on healthy customers and chronic patients, providing a range of health services, including counselling, tracking risk factors, smoking cessation programs, vaccinations (the full range), nutrition and weight management, among others.
A partnership with consumer product companies and the pharmaceutical industry will be essential to deliver a powerful value proposition for customers.
The ultimate outcome would be for the community pharmacy to become more integrated into a consumer centric model, in which patients would be guided toward the most appropriate specialist (whether it be the Emergency Department, GP or community pharmacy) according to the specific characteristics of their health problems.