Pharmacists should be the glue that keep us together

Chris Freeman looks at why medical practitioners and pharmacists need to collaborate, not skirmish

“Coming together is a beginning; Keeping together is progress; Working together is success.”—Henry Ford

It takes courage, humility, trust, and simple hard work to foster genuine and sustained working relationships and I have seen these qualities in many pharmacists and general practitioners I have met or worked with.

Both community pharmacies and general practice medical centres are pillars of our primary health sector and both undeniably contribute in their own ways to the betterment of patient care.

Both of these sectors are also going through growing pains, stimulated by the increasing complexity of care, changing regulation, primary care reform agendas, commercial pressures, remuneration challenges, digital evolution, professional dissatisfaction, and increased awareness for patient safety to name but a few.

It is understandable that changes in the environment to combat these pressures of our health system are perceived as potential threats with all sides viewing changes to scope of practice or the development of new ways in working together from their own point of view, while losing sight of the most critical element, the patient and their health needs.

Quite simply, a person should expect to receive the care they require, when and where they need it.

PSA will not accept continued disparaging comments regarding the role of community pharmacists and the vital activities that are delivered through community pharmacy.

So where are the qualities of courage, humility, trust, and hard work in these current debates? I know they remain within both the pharmacy and medical professions, but they must be nurtured by our respective professional leadership organisations, driven through setting an example and realised through vision and actions.

It is my view that the PSA’s Pharmacists in 2023 report does just that. The actions in the document sets the scene for healthcare evolution that provides better access to care, safety, and quality improvements in the use of medicines and better use of pharmacists to provide more effective and efficient healthcare services, with improved outcomes for consumers.

It is about integrating pharmacists into teams within healthcare settings, so they can fulfil a much-needed societal role as the stewards of QUM.

We must build upon the accessibility of pharmacists and their core role in the dispensing of medicines. The profession must be empowered to do more than the current system enables us to do. That means harnessing the expansive expertise, skills and training of pharmacists as medicine experts.

By empowering the pharmacist profession now and in the future, we can truly emphasise the ‘quality’ in QUM.

The vital clinical service that pharmacists provide in dispensing and supplying essential medicines for the community, particularly consumers with chronic diseases, is a well-established part of the fabric of our society.

Community pharmacists play a key role in managing patients’ health concerns by using their clinical training to ‘assess then treat or refer’ based on the patient’s needs. This contribution provides timely access to care and reduces the burden on general practice and hospitals.

Working collaboratively with general practice and Primary Health Networks will ensure that these services are integrated into local practice environments.

Now and in the future, consumers will continue to seek accessible and convenient care. Community pharmacists are in an ideal position to respond to consumer demands about how and when they access healthcare.

To improve consumer access to health services, PSA have identified the following system changes required to achieve the action by 2023:

  1. Support for community pharmacists around Australia to differentiate into primary healthcare ‘hubs’ and respond to patient health needs
  2. Increase consumer awareness of pharmacists’ role in facilitating self-care
  3. Better utilisation of pharmacists to proactively tackle public population health priorities, increase vaccination rates and implement health prevention and treatment strategies
  4. Practice change and funding to support evidence-based screening and risk assessment for priority health areas for at-risk populations
  5. Establish medicine safety and quality measures for dispensing activities and provision of non-prescription medicines
  6. Implement funding approaches that recognise quality, time and complexity of patient care
  7. Maximise consumer access to pharmacists by maintaining a viable and sustainable community pharmacy network
  8. Enhance access to complex medicines supply arrangements targeted for the patients who need them

PSA strongly believes that pharmacists should also be embedded within healthcare teams to improve decision making for the safe and appropriate use of medicines.

A collaborative care team is where the patient and their healthcare providers work together to achieve optimal health outcomes. Ideally, it refers to situations where the team is located in the same practice setting and interact closely face-to-face, but also refers to providers who work in separate locations and are providing care to the same patient.

It also includes making sure that linkages with existing care providers (such as community pharmacists) are better integrated with other care environments (such as general practice); for instance, through the use of digital technologies.

PSA have identified three system changes required to achieve the action in 2023:

  1. Practice changes to embed pharmacists wherever medicines are prescribed and used, particularly in primary care – general practice, aged care and Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations
  2. Increase funding to incentivise and support these primary care roles
  3. Increase investment in hospital pharmacist resources to achieve medicine safety targets, and to ensure patients receive comparable access to pharmacist care, regardless of location, timing or nature of hospital stay

PSA will not accept continued disparaging comments regarding the role of community pharmacists and the vital activities that are delivered through community pharmacy.

Our members tell us day in and day out about their work and the contribution they make to healthcare and we wholeheartedly support this, and we need to build on it. I’m sure, in fact I’m certain, that our members and the members of medical organisations are tired of this.

Community pharmacy and general practice are therefore not mutually exclusive. We see the pharmacist working in community pharmacy or general practice as the glue that is going to bring relationships between community pharmacy and general practice even closer.

There is no reason that community pharmacists through joint employment arrangements can’t be the individuals who provide these activities within general practice.

In this instance we can have our cake and eat it too, both areas of practice are vital to improving consumer care, neither is mutually exclusive, and both require investment to see the vision fulfilled.

We must summon the courage, humility, trust, and simple hard work so we can work together across all settings to improve the health of all Australians.

Dr Christopher Freeman is the national president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia.

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