How many times have you popped into your local pharmacy to fill a prescription and buy some moisturiser, all without giving the pharmacist more than a passing thought?
Dr Chris Freeman, an expert pharmacist, shares six ways that pharmacists can contribute to you and your family’s health. (Spoiler alert: you’ll be amazed by the last one!)
- All things medicines
Medicines remain the core work of pharmacists but their job extends well beyond filling scripts. Advice and support are all part of the service.
“A pharmacist can advise when you can expect medicine will start working and ensure you know when and how to take it,” says Dr Freeman, who was awarded as Young Pharmacist of the Year in 2011. “They can help you understand possible side effects and, importantly, what to do if you experience them.
“As pharmacists, we are skilled at conducting thorough reviews for people on multiple medications or with complex needs.”
Pharmacists are also the go-to people for safe disposal of expired or unwanted medicines — no more tipping them down the sink or into the general waste after your next bathroom cupboard clear out.
- Screening and support
“Pharmacists are the most frequently visited health professionals,” says Dr Freeman. There are many screening tests being available in pharmacies, providing an accessible way to check your health.
“Pharmacists don’t make diagnoses,” explains Dr Freeman, who is also the current Vice President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia. “If screening shows that someone falls in a high risk category, the pharmacist would refer them on.”
Screening opportunities vary between pharmacies but can include cardiovascular health tests, bone density, respiratory spirometry and sleep testing.
Pharmacists are also available for support in chronic disease management and matters like quitting smoking.
- An immunisation resource
Did you know the influenza vaccine is available directly through your pharmacy?
“And research shows a significant number of people are getting vaccinations when they would not have done so via their GP,” says Dr Freeman. This service is not only great for freeing up GPs, it also keeps healthy people out of waiting rooms filled with sick people.
In some states of Australia, other vaccines (including pertussis for whooping cough) are also available directly through pharmacies.
- Support for new mums
“Having young children of my own, I know that new parents need as much support as they can get,” says Dr Freeman. He is therefore happy to share the news that a growing number of pharmacies offer support services for new mothers.
“Some employ a breastfeeding nurse to offer assistance and others provide routine checks, run by a midwife or maternal health nurse,” he says. These are offered as collaborative and additional services, rather than as replacement of other maternal health services.
- Out and about too
Don’t be surprised to find a pharmacist working away from their pharmacy. Medication reviews can take place within someone’s home or residential care facility. And, pharmacists are starting to be employed within GP clinics.
“Having pharmacists within the clinic means they are easily accessible and can be consulted in real time,” says Dr Freeman, explaining that a GP can call on a pharmacist to give advice within a consultation, or set up a different time for a more comprehensive review.
This idea of doctors and pharmacists working closely together is a trend set to continue. “A dozen Primary Health Networks around Australia have invested in growing this service,” says Dr Freeman, whose PhD was on the topic of how pharmacists can be better used within primary care. “The feedback from patients has been overwhelmingly positive.”
- Unwell? Need a sick leave certificate?
“It is legislated that pharmacists can provide absence from work certificates,” says Dr Freeman. “What that means is that someone who has presented to their pharmacist for management of cold symptoms doesn’t also have to see their GP.”
Dr Freeman stresses that pharmacists are able to provide short-term sick leave certificates for conditions within their scope of expertise.
However, as Dr Freeman explains, “This option not only helps reduce the burden on the GP system but means individuals can focus on recuperating rather than spending half their day running around getting a certificate for their employer.”
Importantly, not all pharmacists can offer everything mentioned here. Availability varies between states as well as being dependent on a pharmacist’s areas of interest.
What is certain is that your local pharmacy’s role goes well beyond dispensing medicine. “It has moved to a whole health service focus,” says Dr Freeman.
Introduce yourself to your local pharmacist and find out what services he or she can offer to help you and your family stay healthy.