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Community pharmacy and OTC healthcare

Ash Soni

Traditionally, the image of community pharmacists has been based on a transactional model - the supply and dispensing of medicines. The role of pharmacists has evolved considerably over the last decade and faces radical changes, as it moves towards providing services and playing a greater role in wellness and disease prevention. We are seeing this trend across Europe, although there are clear differences between countries in terms of the pharmacy model and in the categorisation of medicinal products as prescription or pharmacy only.

Prevention is paramount in reducing healthcare costs, and pharmacists will continue to play an important role in keeping the general population healthy. In the UK, for instance, there are 1.6 million visits to a pharmacy every day. In many countries pharmacists see about four times as many patients compared to general practitioners. When a member of the public enters a pharmacy, he or she also enters a comfortable and safe environment for general health and wellbeing discussions.

Pharmacists' wellness and prevention role means intervening when people are still well and many provide services such as weight management, smoking cessation and cholesterol and blood pressure monitoring. Wellness and prevention also takes the form of tackling specific conditions in high-risk groups through identifying and educating those concerned when they are in a pharmacy setting. Men have traditionally been a hard-to-reach group when it comes to health promotion - I would argue that they can be better targeted on specific health issues that affect them, such as prostate cancer, in the pharmacy setting where they may be more likely to interact with a healthcare professional.

Patients will start to create more demand for OTC services when they see the value that pharmacy brings and the knowledge and skills that pharmacists have. In an ideal model, the wider team supporting the pharmacist should be trained to support the public on prevention and acute needs, while the pharmacist focuses on patients with chronic long-term conditions such as diabetes. Investment in training the wider pharmacy team to support the increased workload, pressures and responsibilities of the pharmacist will be important to ensure the success of this model and continued confidence in the profession.

The pharmaceutical industry can play an important role in supporting the education of the pharmacy team, by not only providing information about specific products, but also the wider health issues that may affect patients. 

Article by
Ash Soni

President of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society

2nd June 2015

From: Sales, Healthcare

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