Community wins out over discounting

Wheatbelt Health Centre Pharmacy

Wheatbelt Health Centre Pharmacy has been named one of the category finalists in the Guild’s Pharmacy of the Year competition

Engaging with the community on a professional, social, business and health level is the driving philosophy behind the work of the pharmacists and staff at Wheatbelt Health Centre Pharmacy in Northam WA.

So successful has this approach been that the pharmacy has been announced as the winner of the Excellence in Community Engagement category of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s Pharmacy of the Year competition.

The awards, sponsored by Care Pharmaceuticals and QCPP, recognise pharmacies that are leaders in providing innovative and optimal healthcare for members of their community.

One of the winners of the three competition categories— Excellence in Professional Innovation,   Excellence in Community Engagement, and Excellence in Business Management— will be named the overall 2020 Pharmacy of the Year at the opening plenary session of APP2020 on the Gold Coast next Thursday, 19 March, at 8.30am

Spokesperson for the judging group Nick Panayiaris, Pharmacy Guild of Australia National Councillor and President of the South Australian Branch of the Guild, said Wheatbelt Health Centre Pharmacy was a standout in its approach to community relations and community engagement, and service integration within their regional health centre.

“With this category we look at how the pharmacy has identified and met gaps in addressing local health needs and also how the pharmacy has extended its reach beyond the walls of the pharmacy to better serve and educate the community,” Mr Panayiaris said.

“We also look at how they pharmacy has supported the various community groups and engaged them in health communication, promotions, education and projects.”

Wheatbelt Health Centre Pharmacy
Wheatbelt Health Centre Pharmacy.

Wheatbelt had made a conscious decision, according to managing pharmacist Georgia Bolden, to concentrate on being medicines experts rather than joining in a discount battle. Two nearby pharmacies were already active discounters.

“We saw that they were on what we regarded was a race to the bottom and we just didn’t want to be part of that,” she said.

“That’s not what we are here as pharmacists for. So about two years ago we sat down and decided to focus on services and our expertise as medication experts.

“We ditched the catalogue and stopped trying to compete with the discounters. It has worked and we are recognised at the health service experts and the medication experts.

“The GPs, the hospital and other health professionals all come to us. We have made it happen.”

Ms Bolden said proprietor Daniel O’Driscoll had totally supported changes in the pharmacy.

“He is truly a remarkable person to work for. He has been supportive of all my suggested changes. We work fantastically as a team and play to each other’s strengths.”

An integral part of the success of the pharmacy’s approach has been a commitment to collaboration with other health professionals.

“We work closely with our local GPs and there are three clinics in town,” she said.

“I get out and visit them personally and get in front of them to tell them what we are working on at the pharmacy and what we are able to do, such as MedsChecks.

“They really appreciate this and are very open and accepting and in turn refer back to us when they have question or want us to look after a patient in a particular way.

“One GP clinic is adjacent to us so it’s like being a pharmacy in a GP clinic – but without the funding.

“But the proximity just strengthens the relationship.”

Ms Bolden said the pharmacy provided flu vaccines to the community in collaboration with the neighbouring GP clinic.

“Our collaboration sees us immunise the bulk of the clinic’s private patients to reduce the need for appointments. In 2018 we administered ~100 influenza vaccines. This year we administered more than 300 vaccines with two accredited pharmacists available at all times.”

The pharmacy also worked closely with the local hospital.

“I’m very active with the hospital, not just the emergency department and wards, although we work closely with them as well.

“In the hospital I do a lot of work with the palliative care ward because often people with chronic illness swing from the hospital to home so we make sure they are looked after.

“This is a time when they can fall between the cracks and we want to make sure that doesn’t happen.

“We work with the hospital, the doctors, the patient and their family and delve down to find the best solutions for the patient.

“I think a great part of our success in helping these patients is that we are patient-centric in our approach.

“We make sure they are OK and not just having to fit in with the system when it comes to the care they receive.”

Ms Bolden said that in recognition of their work the pharmacy had been invited to participate with WA Country Health Service in clinical or social work, an honour she had not heard of being given to any other pharmacy.

“We are the first pharmacy I’ve heard of that this has happened to and it’s all because of our involvement with patients,” she said.

“It is a recognition that we are integrated with their care and make sure they are ok. That’s what we are here for.

“We look after a number of patients who could easily fall through the gaps because of their situation but we make sure that doesn’t happen and that they are looked after

“We are able to provide that extra bit of care to help them.”

Care Pharmaceuticals’ General Manager Jonathan Biddle said part of Wheatbelt Health Centre Pharmacy’s approach to increasing community engagement with its pharmacists was to focus on being medication experts rather than trying to compete with discounters.

“This frees up the time of the pharmacists to engage with patients and to be available to deliver professional services,” he said.

“This was a strong decision to make and reflects their commitment to providing what the community wants and also to improving the wellbeing of members of their community,” he said.

“Their recognition and respect as medication experts who know about and care deeply for their community has grown.  

“They now find GPs and other health care professionals refer patients to them because they can trust the level of clinical skills and service delivery the pharmacy prides itself on.”

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