Pharmacists restricted in disasters: study

Image courtesy QUT.

Outdated laws are hampering pharmacists from helping to provide timely, effective treatment to displaced people, say researchers

Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology say that the legal barriers pharmacists face across Australian jurisdictions include restrictive emergency medication that only covers three days as well as vaccination and relocation limitations.

Dr Kaitlyn Watson, from QUT’s Faculty of Health School of Clinical Sciences, said the medical impacts from disasters last much longer than three days.

“People panic and often forget to pack their vital medications,” she said.

“To ensure they have supplies longer than what a pharmacist can administer they find they either go to hospitals’ emergency departments to get a new script or find a GP.

“Both these options are difficult in disaster-hit areas.”

Dr Watson said the current disaster medicine health care model is focused primarily on high-acuity patients; however the demographic of those adversely affected in the longer term during a disaster is shifting.

“Disasters are increasing in frequency and severity displacing people from their homes and life-saving medicines disrupting the continuity of care particularly to the elderly, very young, people with reduced mobility and other vulnerable groups,” she said.

Dr Watson has investigated pharmacy legislation specific to disasters for five countries including Australia, Canada, United Kingdom, United States and New Zealand.

The research has been published in Australian Health Review and co-authored by researcher Dr Judith Singleton and Professors Vivienne Tippett and Lisa Nissen.

The study found legislative barriers prevented the level of assistance pharmacists can provide during times of crisis which in turn added to the burden on healthcare teams during disasters.

“Pharmacists need to be aware of the different legislation supporting their roles in disasters, which can differ significantly depending on the location of their practice,” the authors write.

“Supportive legislation (e.g. emergency supply, vaccination and relocation or mobile pharmacies) has the ability to empower pharmacists in disasters to better serve disaster-affected communities and increases the overall healthcare resources available.”

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