Why is pharmacy so hard to understand?

Why do those conducting industry reviews feel that pharmacists are so easily pushed aside? wonders Carlene McMaugh

Pharmacy is currently the subject of a number of government and industry reviews: the Productivity Commission is recommending that pharmacists can be replaced by robotic dispensers. The King Review is looking at what services we are providing to better understand pharmacy and how it should be reimbursed.

It makes me wonder: what is it about pharmacy that is so mystifying?

Why are we as healthcare professionals so easily replaced by robotic dispensers? This view undermines the relationships and counselling we provide to our patients; the medication issues  we identify; the calls we make to rectify situations that prevent potential errors.

Medications are complex, as are the people who take them. The medications patients are taking together could interact or counteract each other—we identify these issues and start discussions with prescribers.

We educate people about the correct way to use their inhalers; how to correctly use injectable medications; how to correctly apply a topical dose form. We provide supervision for methadone or buprenorphine/naloxone dosing.

All of these roles that we perform are more and more undervalued or misunderstood. It makes me wonder if people know what we do and it makes me reflect on the respect for our knowledge and skills.

We are often described as the most accessible healthcare professional, but we are more than that. We are also the healthcare professionals constantly resolving problems with prescriptions; we are the health professional who tracks down scripts missing for Dose Administration Aids; we are the blood glucose machine replacers; we are the health professional who listens to complaints about medical conditions and medications that are not working.

Could our skills not be better used? Could they be so easily replaced? Are we respected healthcare professionals as well as the most accessible healthcare professionals and do interactions with certain other healthcare professionals have to be contentious?

After all, are we all not here to help patients and keep them safe? Is it not about looking at the most effective way that we can all work together in a respectful way to deliver health and have our profession be respected and not have our role described as being replaceable by robotic dispensers?

Rather than looking at ways to further increase demands placed on doctors and hospitals where not necessary, my suggestion is to look at ways to increase patient access to treatments for conditions that can be delivered by pharmacists. Utilisation of pharmacists’ expertise in this model is already in place in several international settings.

This model includes supplying short-course trimethoprim for diagnosed UTI, OCC for repeat medications to prevent emergency requests, and PDE5 Inhibitors for previously-diagnosed individuals. Why not look at more ways to utilise skill sets and provide patients with safer, easier access to safe supply of medications under certain criteria and better utilise everyone’s skill set?

Isn’t it time for respect and working together as healthcare professionals to provide safe supply of medication? It is time to be recognised. It is time for us to be acknowledged.

It is time to be seen for all we do. It starts with us being united and accepting and respecting all opportunities that come forward and that we can create as pharmacists to help our patients.

Isn’t it time? 

Carlene McMaugh has worked in the healthcare field for over 20 years in varied roles and as a pharmacist for ten years including three years working as a pharmacist in the UK. She currently works in Capital Chemist Coburg and in the pharmaceutical industry.

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  1. Toby

    Answer: because pharmacists run ads on the TV telling people that whatever the customer is currently paying for medicines, it is might be too much – therefore pharmacists themselves are implying that they are not of high monetary value, which the public and govt then extends to its overall impression of pharmacy. Also pharmacists are not united, or militant, when it comes to defending the profession directly. Easily answered, not so easily fixed. But you know this.

  2. Deborah Jordan

    Pharmacists are subject to different rules depending where they work. In his own pharmacy one refused to supply certain OTC medication to me. When he went to work for someone else he had no authority and the owner told him to give me the medication. There MUST be one set of rules applicable across the board regarding access to pharmacy only medication.

    • Jarrod McMaugh

      Every pharmacist in Australia has professional autonomy – an employer cannot compel a pharmacist to perform any role that the pharmacist does not feel is justified.

      • Andaroo

        The unfortunate reality however is that every employer also has a similar amount of employment autonomy – an employee pharmacist will find it very difficult to compel their boss to continue their role when the boss does not feel it’s justified.

        This only becomes problematic for the employee pharmacist if other employment is not readily available. Such as during workforce surplus…es….

        Oh, um….well this is awkward.

      • Andrew

        Has that law ever been applied? Cos there’s the regulations, and then there’s what actually happens….

  3. Big Pharma

    Advanced collaborative clinical pharmacist roles have been put on the back-burner. One of the most promising evidence based services in the sector (HMRs) has been quashed by the profession’s “representative” body….despite ongoing praise from external sources, saving taxpayer dollars and preventing hospital admissions.

    Maybe look a little closer to home to see why pharmacist advancement within the community is slow and limited.

    • Carlene Ngoma

      Can I ask what do you mean by closer to home?

      • Big Pharma

        Within the profession itself…. Start with the proposed HMR moratorium and the body that negotiate with the government. The HMR program was gutted within a fortnight.

        Minimal representation for clinical pharmacist services=little funding given. When a program with demonstrated benefit and cost saving can’t get funding eyebrows raise pretty quickly. Especially when rural and remote areas are left with no service and the 6CPA proposes a greater focus on this sector…laughable!!

        Interestingly GPs remain uncapped as there is a desperate need for medication review and intervention.

  4. Carlene Ngoma

    Thank you for your considered responses which are all valid. I agree that a united stance from pharmacists and that a better overall impression of the varied roles and responsibilities pharmacist can play in healthcare could shift the public and government overall impression of pharmacy; which at present states we are wroth $28 p/h following a masters degree and this is also the impression we are showing students who are considering a career in pharmacy.

  5. Michael Post

    Pharmacists are not diagnosticians and are seen as a step in the ‘ carry out medical instruction’ chain. Medicos have eTG and eMIMS to access medicine information. It is not a stretch to see reviewers query the cost of our contribution and educational requirements.

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