Making the retail/health marriage work: Rhonda White

Rhonda White outside Terry White Chemists shop

Community pharmacy is a marriage of professional retail and health services and they fit together nicely—but making this marriage work well demands a mastery that no other profession calls for, says retail expert Rhonda White AO, at the recent NAPSA Congress.

“The unprecedented era of economic, demographic and technological change—that you belong to—presents challenges and opportunities that call for outward-looking local and national leadership of pharmacy,” says White.

“The pharmacy counter as such is the meeting point for millions of Australians seeking healthcare advice and solutions when they need it. It is the foundation on which we have built the credibility and trust that will allow us to continue to break new ground.”

She adds that the stars are aligned for community pharmacy as the community and government come to realise that an extended scope of practice for community practice pharmacists is critical to providing some solutions for an overloaded healthcare system.

Yet she says the traditional role of dispensing medicines is not always respected by other health professionals.

“It is underestimated the extent and value that face-to-face point of contact counselling provides to the public,” she told delegates.

“Community pharmacy cannot and must not walk away from this primary and essential role.

“It must not allow governments to separate dispensing remuneration from counselling services—outcomes for community health and long-term sustainability of the business model would be very negative,” she says.

The future is about balancing costs with health outcomes to maximise the health of all Australians, and it is also about the sustainability of a viable community pharmacy network and business model which is the most efficient way to deliver services effectively and economically across the country including rural and remote Australia, she says.

Research done by Macquarie University’s Professor Scott Koslow shows that if customers have to see a doctor, treatment drops by 30 to 50%. Every unnecessary trip to the doctor crowds out other worthwhile health investments.

Prof Koslow and his team itemised 11 prescription drugs that could be switched to S3 that could bring savings of $2.1bn to the health budget, she says.

Pharmacy needs practice-ready graduates with extended training.

“When you graduate or if you have already done so—your primary degree is only a ticket to the game—a doorway—a rite of passage to the future,” White says.

“If low wages are your concern my solution has been go for the job, I want, get runs on the board, add value and the outcome is invariably recognition and increasing remuneration.

“It is time for a radical transition. It will take patience, passion and persistence but the fantastic thing is what you get to do in the future.”

Pharmacy students should take electives from the business schools at their universities, rather than the occasional guest lecturer, she suggests.

Electives can also be tailored to suit a pharmacy student’s areas of interest: for example, a pharmacy student interested in mental health could choose units from the behavioural sciences on counselling and personality disorders, which would be invaluable, she says.

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