Focus on patient interaction needed to sustain community pharmacy
The community pharmacy profession must evolve into a service-oriented role which helps improve the health of the community around it, says an expert.
Speaking at the recent Malaysian Community Pharmacy Business Forum 2019 (MyCPBF 2019) in Petaling Jaya, Lim Jack Shen, vice president of the Federation of Asian Pharmaceutical Associations (FAPA), noted that an excessive focus on issues of price wars, unfair trade and online commerce diverted attention from the true niches that the profession needed to occupy in the healthcare system.
“The FIP/WHO Guidelines of Good Pharmacy Practice define a pharmacist as a trained healthcare professional who is charged by the appropriate authorities with the distribution of medicines to customers, and engages in appropriate efforts to ensure their safe and efficacious use,” said Lim. “They should be gatekeepers and guardians of medications … [it’s] not about selling the cheapest possible drugs.”
Lim, also the honorary treasurer of the Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society (MPS), highlighted the strengths of community pharmacists, namely their ready availability in communities, the public access provided to health products and services, the lack of financial barriers for health advice, and the less formal environment for consultation in comparison to clinics and hospitals.
These strengths could also benefit from taking advantage of current and growing trends in healthcare, such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, personalized medicine, work automation, wearables, the Internet of Things (IoT), universal records, cross-platform applications, and big data, he said.
“Improving pharmacist-patient interaction is key,” said Lim. “It’s estimated that 92% of technicians and salespersons can be replaced by robots, but less than 2% of pharmacists can be, because of the human factor involved.”
Among the weaknesses observed by Lim in present community pharmacy practice included a lack of collaboration between individual community pharmacies, a resistance to the adoption of new technologies, the lack of dispensing separation, disruption from digital platforms, and discount pharmacies.
“Working in silos weakens the profession,” said Lim, who went on to advocate that community pharmacies find ways to work together through areas such as group buying, collaborative care, peer-to-peer financing, and shared service platforms. “We should be thinking of each other as partners, not competitors.”
Lim noted that there were still many opportunities for community pharmacists to progress, as the ageing population and increased healthcare expectations by the community could lead to new opportunities for specialization and the expansion of roles. Technology would also allow community pharmacists to extend their reach beyond the physical storefront, he added, and further occupy a space as experts in medication advice, management, and safety in the community.
While Lim acknowledged that the profession was still at risk from various variables such as economic conditions, consumer behavioural changes, technology trends, financing models, and government policy directions, it would be important to focus on adapting to the challenges rather than hoping to weather through them via conventional practice.
Key moves forward to be undertaken by the profession would be in the areas of continuing education, promoting vaccination, provision of affordable medicines, smoking cessation, pharmacy zoning, public engagement, health technologies, self-care programmes, and transfer of care, said Lim, adding, “We need to work with our patients to build happier, healthier communities.”