Pharmacy should be a health nexus: self-medication report

pharmacist with tablet computer

Community pharmacy could become a hub for wellbeing, with pharmacists encouraging responsible self-medication and reducing unnecessary GP visits, a new report says.

Developed by the Global Access Partners Taskforce on Self Care, Towards Responsible Self Care: The Role of Health Literacy, Pharmacy and Non-Prescription Medicines, sets out several recommendations for government, citizens, health professionals, industry and private health insurers to increase uptake of self care.

“While most people either allow minor ailments to heal themselves, self-medicate with products already in their medicine cabinet, or visit the pharmacy for appropriate relief, a significant percentage still default to their GP and emergency departments for almost any problem,” the report says.

“This squanders both their time and money and the limited resources of the GP.

“The pharmacy therefore offers a vital nexus between the public, doctors, broader health care system and the pharmaceutical industry and, given improved levels of health literacy, could potentially become many people’s first port of call for minor symptoms and everyday ailments.

“Pharmacists can triage consumers’ symptoms efficiently, given the minor nature of most complaints, and offer advice, remedies or direction to the GP as appropriate.

“Responsible self-medication requires that treatments are demonstrably safe, efficient and of known and reliable quality.

“They must be used as indicated for self-recognisable or well understood conditions, and be accompanied by relevant information the user can understand.

“The pharmacist is in an ideal position to assure these standards are maintained and may be the only health professional in a position to do so.

“Rather than be regarded as a mere dispenser of prescriptions, the pharmacy could become a central hub for community wellbeing and health positive activity.”

Alex Gosman, GAP Taskforce on self care chair says the report emphasises the importance of health literacy and the role pharmacies and non-prescription medicines can play in supporting responsible self care and reducing government expenditure.

“As well as enabling a more efficient health system and improved health outcomes, these factors are consistent with a growing desire by health consumers to become more involved in their own health care, particularly with the advent of new communications technologies,” Gosman says.

“A key recommendation is that pharmacies play a greater role in delivering primary health care.

“Health care professionals should be offered incentives to encourage and support self care, as its success relies on partnership, communication and cooperation with patients and the wider community.

“There should also be increased community investment in health literacy and preventative health to maximise public health benefits and control overall expenditure, and opportunities for private health insurance could expand into payments for better integrated primary care to encourage and promote its development,” he says.

The report says pharmacies will need support to evolve their practice and assume the expanded role.

This would include a greater investment in infrastructure facilitating private discussion, adequate levels and training of staff, and continual reviews of services for improvement.

“While the sale of non-prescription medicines will contribute to this service, pharmacies will need to be adequately remunerated.

“International examples of minor ailments services indicate that consultations with pharmacists can take up to 15-20 minutes. Internationally, governments have been investing in supporting pharmacists to take on an expanded role with minor ailments and self care.”

Pharmacists would require greater emphasis on communication and consumer counselling skills in their formal training, the report says.

Community pharmacy will also require greater support from government, health services, GPs, the pharmaceutical industry and other stakeholders in encouraging consumers to safely care for themselves where medically appropriate, it says.

It will also need to work more collaboratively with GPs: the report cited collaborative models in the UK and Canada where pharmacies supply prescription medicines for extended periods without the need for consumers to report back to the GP unless an issue arises, for example.

“This model encourages responsible self care and is particularly suited to people with stable, chronic conditions or in remote or rural areas.”

A spokesperson for the Guild welcomed the report.

“We certainly welcome those recommendations of the report that reaffirm the important role of community pharmacies in primary health care and in taking pressure off over-worked GPs,” he told the AJP.

“Pharmacies and pharmacists are the most accessible health resource in the community and this report points to a pathway to expand their services and maximise their utility.”

The full report can be accessed here.

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