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Raising awareness of community pharmacy

Many of the public remain unaware of the support on offer from community pharmacies
Raising awareness of community pharmacy

Quality, easy-to-understand information about medicines is a key aspect of any treatment regimen, but the UK public still remains unaware of one of the best places to get advice.

That was one of the main findings from a survey of 1,500 members of the public conducted over the summer of 2013 as part of Pfizer's medicines optimisations campaign, which aims to raise awareness of the role of the community pharmacy in providing patient support.

Pfizer's campaign is supported by a wide variety of NHS stakeholders who would benefit from improved optimisation. This includes the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC), Pharmacy Voice and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS). 

It is also supported by the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) through its Ask Your Pharmacist campaign, which runs on an annual basis to encourage the public to visit their local pharmacy and talk to the pharmacy team about how to get the best out of their medicines.

An understanding gap
All respondents involved in the Pfizer's survey were taking at least one prescription medicine at the time and 74 per cent said they would be more likely to take their medicines as prescribed if they understood more about them. 

However, many were unaware of the support on offer from community pharmacies in their area to help with improved medicines optimisation.

This lack of awareness can lead to the formation of dangerous habits, with the survey also noting that 42 per cent of people had stopped taking a medicine without seeking medical advice and 21 per cent had shared medicines with friends or relatives.

Also striking, although definitely not unexpected, was the survey result that half of all respondents did not take their medicines as prescribed all of the time.

These are findings which take a toll on both a person's health and the NHS economy, with a study by the University of London's School of Pharmacy and the York Health Economics Consortium suggesting that unused and untaken medicines cost the NHS in England about £300m each year.

According to Pfizer, problems with sticking to an agreed treatment plan are most common in people with long-term conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure. 

This can be for a variety of reasons, such as forgetfulness or the worry of side effects, and these can be exacerbated by ignorance on the benefits of medicines.

Prof Rob Horne, a Professor of Behavioural Medicine, at University College London (UCL) School of Pharmacy, whose team assisted in the development of the survey thinks that more needs to be done to tell people where to find the information they lack.

“[The survey] highlights the need for tailored information that addresses patients' individual perceptual and practical barriers to medicines adherence and with a pharmacy on every highstreet, pharmacy teams are well placed to contribute to this,” he said.

The results support the goal of the Ask Your Pharmacist campaign, which tells people who have questions about their medicines to do just that - ask their local pharmacist for advice on making the most of their treatment.

After all, they are the experts on medicines, and the information they provide can play a role in helping people to make lifestyle changes that can improve their health.

The campaign was first launched in October 2012 and is set to continue into 2014, bringing pharma, NHS and pharmacy organisations together to better support patients.

Awareness and resources
In the future the Ask Your Pharmacist campaign will feature a target approach focused on five specific regions in England and Wales, including national and regional posters to be placed in pharmacies and other healthcare buildings encouraging patients to 'Talk to your pharmacy team about getting the best out of your medicines'.

Patients can also access a website which provides access to a range of resources about medicines use and pharmacy services.

These include videos tailored for people with specific long-term conditions, as well as detailed explanations for patients on what to do if they experience side effects.

There are also details on two free, significant, but perhaps little-known NHS schemes, to improve medicines optimisation.

One of these, the New Medicine Service (NMS), is designed for patients prescribed a new medicine for the first time and allows them to sign up for structured conversations with a community pharmacist.

In line with the long-term condition priority, the service is focused on asthma/COPD, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

The NHS also provides the Medicines Use Review for patients who are taking two or more prescribed medicines for a long-term condition.

Described as a medicine 'MOT', the scheme allows patients to have a personal NHS consultation with a pharmacist to improve their understanding of the medicines they take.

These are two worthy schemes to help people improve the way they take their medicines. But they mean little if the public don't know they exist. The survey shows that awareness of the role of the community pharmacy needs to grow. If so, all NHS stakeholders will benefit from a strong ally with the influence to change a patient's attitude towards medicine.

Article by
Thomas Meek

Editor, PMGroup

10th January 2014

From: Sales, Healthcare



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