Community pharmacy needs to embrace screening and risk assessment, says PSA national president Joe Demarte 

Screening and risk assessment is a new and emerging health related area that community pharmacy should embrace and offer as part of its core professional offering, as the transition towards a more healthcare-focused model continues to gather pace.

It is clear from Australian and international evidence community pharmacy is a suitable setting for providing screening and risk assessment services, and that the potential to produce savings for the health budget and to improve the health of Australians through early detection is immense.

It was good to hear therefore that this has not escaped the attention of the new Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt who at the 2017 APP Conference talked about pharmacy’s increasing role in health care and the fundamental change that needs to happen in our health system towards ’early intervention, recognising problems early before they evolve into chronic conditions and being able to assist from the outset.’

He went on to say: ‘Pharmacy through its role… in screening, in early identification, in education, all on top of the fundamental role of providing medicines that Australians need – those elements of community pharmacy are the things which can assist us to produce the most sustainable, and the most effective health system in the world. It is a profound task and responsibility that you have.’

PSA could not agree more. This is both an opportunity and a responsibility.

The opportunity is obvious in that it represents another avenue for community pharmacy to embed itself as an important contributor to our healthcare system by producing positive health outcomes.

The responsibility, on the other hand, is to remember that this is a health service and deserves to be treated as such. With this in mind, PSA has been developing a statement on screening and risk assessment to help pharmacists with this important issue.

The PSA statement outlines five principles PSA believes should underpin pharmacy-based screening and risk assessment services. These principles are informed by the World Health Organization’s Principles of early disease detection.

The principles are:

  • Principle 1: Screening and risk assessment services should target conditions associated with a significant burden of disease, and populations where interventions provide greatest value.
  • Principle 2: Interventions must be evidence-based and appropriate for the pharmacy setting.
  • Principle 3: Pharmacists need to obtain and document informed consent.
  • Principle 4: Pharmacists must facilitate appropriate follow up, including referral for patients with a positive screening test.
  • Principle 5: Pharmacists must be appropriately trained and equipped to provide screening and risk assessment services.

Screening and risk assessment activities in community pharmacy must not only be evidence-based and appropriate for the pharmacy setting, they must only be provided by an appropriately trained and equipped pharmacist using validated screening and risk assessment tools.

Further, we need to be aware of the limitations of point-of-care tests used in screening, and consider the adequacy of information they provide when interpreting patient risks and clearly explain any limitations to the patient.

On another note, I was delighted to meet with Minister Hunt in Canberra on 23 March to discuss how pharmacists can directly help to improve healthcare outcomes across Australia.

As the peak national body for all pharmacists, PSA highlighted to the Minister its important role of providing high quality continuing professional development, education and practice support to pharmacists as well as developing standards and guidelines to inform and enhance pharmacists’ practice.

PSA looks forward to working with the Minister in the future to provide advice and support for evidence-based healthcare reforms to benefit all Australians.