This year’s National Pharmacy Association “Ask Your Pharmacist” campaign takes place from 7th-14th November. It will once again seek to encourage the public to make greater use of community pharmacy; not just to collect prescriptions, but to access wide-ranging support for medicines taking and healthy living advice. These campaigns have been taking place for some twenty years – surely by now everybody has got the message?
Unfortunately, there is still little public awareness of the range of services on offer. In fact one survey* found that only 23% of pharmacy users considered pharmacies the best place to seek general health advice. This perception needs to change, if pharmacy is to play more than a peripheral role in helping the NHS with ever increasing demands for healthcare.
Our raison d’étre has to be the key to unlocking the potential of community pharmacy. In 2015 around 1.1 billion prescription items were dispensed, so we know people are visiting pharmacies. In fact the number of items dispensed has increased by over 50% in the last ten years. More people are receiving more help than ever before and more visits to pick up medication means more opportunities to advise and support patients.
So what can we offer? A key element has to be personalised medicines advice and this can be done formally through a Medicine Use Review, or informally when handing out a prescription, or in responding to a patient’s question. Helping patients understand their medicines, and what they can do to manage their condition, will help to improve their outcomes and reduce the burden on other healthcare providers. No appointment necessary, easily accessible, and friendly/welcoming staff mean promoting our other services should be easy.
Supporting self-care for the treatment of common ailments is another area where pharmacy could excel. Allied to this is urgent care where the patient has a medical or health-related condition, which they believe they need help with that day. The pharmacist can advise on suitable treatment options to help the patient make an informed choice of what to do next. If the patient reports more serious symptoms that are a cause for concern, then they can be referred to a different healthcare provider, armed with the reassurance that they are not wasting anybody’s time (e.g. GP, OOH or A&E).
The flu vaccination service is now in its second year and is providing not only a great service, but also helping to promote community pharmacy as more than just a place to get your prescriptions dispensed. It’s likely that pharmacists will be much more involved in the management of long-term conditions in the future, which, given that these conditions are largely managed by medicines, has to make sense. These clinical services will be increasingly important in the future and will help to instil public confidence in what’s on offer.
So, what can be done today? Take every opportunity to engage with patients, support them with all aspects of their medicines taking and help them with any problems they present with. Be proactive, make a difference to patients’ lives and actively encourage all of your customers to ask for your help. #askyourpharmacist