More needs to be done to explain pharmacists' role

“Considerable work” is needed to increase awareness of pharmacists’ extended roles, according to research from Wales reported in the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice.

Researchers found that, while the public recognises the role of pharmacists in the dispensing and supply of medicines, awareness of newer services from pharmacists was poor.

In 2012, the researchers convened five focus groups, facilitated by a pharmacist and an assistant. The groups comprised 32 participants, including secondary school pupils, members of the local community, and patients and carers from a Parkinson’s disease group. The age of the participants ranged from 16 to 81 years.

The focus groups were aware of a pharma-cist’s dispensing role, such as checking dosage, storage and distribution, and “being alert to adverse reactions or interactions”, and said they would use community pharmacists as “the ‘first port of call’ for medication advice”. They perceived pharmacists as being “well qualified, specialised or experts in drugs”.

However, awareness of pharmacists’ public health role was limited. For instance, rather than asking for advice about dieting, participants felt purchasing diet products was the main link with pharmacies and that they should promote healthy eating rather than diet lines. Participants were also generally unaware of the support available from community pharmacy for people with chronic conditions.

The focus groups felt that a pharmacy linked to a GP surgery “would operate with a greater level of professionalism” than one elsewhere in the community and seemed to assume that community pharmacists and GPs worked closely together.

The school focus group felt that pharmacists in large multiples or supermarkets “were less well trained, less trustworthy and not perceived as highly professional as [community pharmacists] working in smaller pharmacies or those attached to surgeries”. The groups also felt that pharmacies ‘linked’ to GP surgeries had less of a retail role and were not as commercially “biased” as other pharmacies.

The authors concluded that the study “revealed a possible mismatch between the actual services on offer and what the public perceives to be available from a community pharmacy”, especially with respect to public health services and advice.

Against this background, further studies need to:
• Investigate awareness of services led by community pharmacists
• Define the setting in which the public wants services provided
• Include different demographic groups
• Ascertain whether the views from these focus groups represent the wider population.

In the meantime, the authors say, “considerable work is needed to increase public awareness and understanding during the strategic development of services, contract design and service specification”, including addressing “the pressure that commercialism may have on the provision of a robust professional service”.



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