There has been a growing need for community pharmacists around the world to have a greater professional role in the delivery of primary care for patients, said Tim Chen, associate professor of pharmacy practice at the University of Sydney, on 1 September 2014 at the 74th International Pharmaceutical Federation Congress in Bangkok. Pharmacists are highly trusted healthcare professionals with extensive knowledge of pharmacotherapy and the management of chronic diseases, so it makes sense for healthcare stakeholders, including government and policymakers, insurers and consumers, to use this expertise.
Chen broke down the role of community pharmacists in primary care into three areas: its role with patients and carers, with other healthcare professionals and with the healthcare system. For patients and carers, community pharmacists, for example, dispense prescription medicines, prescribe non-prescription products, and provide health promotion, screening and advice to the public (e.g. educating on self-care). They also refer patients to other healthcare professionals, which Chen believed is an extremely important role.
Community pharmacists interact with other healthcare professionals in recommending pharmacotherapy, drug therapy and through education and research.
Within the healthcare system, community pharmacists can inform policy through practice and evidence, for example.
Chen noted that, with an ageing population, there is an increased usage of multiple medicines for chronic conditions (polypharmacy). This is often related to increased drug-related hospital admissions, many of which are preventable. Therefore, community pharmacists can help reduce hospital admissions due to drug-related adverse effects through, for example, reviewing patients’ medicines and their use.
Chen provided examples of innovative services being conducted by pharmacists. He said he saw a young pharmacist in Thailand providing screening for depression, using a depression screening checklist, in a community pharmacy.
The following suggestions were made by Chen as to how community pharmacists can achieve a greater professional role in the delivery of primary care:
- Move from a product-centred (i.e. supply of medicines) to a patient-centred role;
- Shift from a business-focused to a health-focused way of thinking;
- Integrate into healthcare teams;
- Collaborate with patients (shared decision making on their health) and the government;
- Be responsive to emerging needs and be proactive, rather than maintaining status quo and being reactive.