Community pharmacies are turning to innovative ways to engage with their communities and one idea finding success and favour is the establishment of walking groups for patients and customers.
Under the auspices of the Heart Foundation, the walking groups help to raise awareness of the importance of physical activity and cardiovascular health while building relationships with members of the community.
The Heart Foundation says that with one in four Australian adults doing little to no exercise, the walking groups are a fun and easy way to help people increase their physical activity. Over the past 20 years, Heart Foundation Walking groups have helped more than 80,000 Australians remain active and improve their health.
One pharmacy which has seen the benefits of a walking group is The Port Coogee Discount Drug Store in WA where pharmacist Heemal Patel is a driver of the newly established walking group.
"We are in a new area and we started the group in September and already have regular walkers," he said.
"The walkers range from retirees and mothers to some professional people - it really is a mixed group and it varies every week."
The group meet at 8:30am outside the pharmacy and walks for 45 minutes.
"We walk at a brisk pace but we also ensure that everyone can walk to their own pace," he said.
"We have two pharmacy staff on any group so one leads the walkers and the other can stay with people who prefer to walk slower.
"There is no charge and it is a great way to build relationships and engage with our community."
Mr Patel said the group emphasises that the pharmacy and its staff are there to help the community.
"The group helps to underline the fact that we are here to partner with and help people make a difference to their health," he said.
He said the group also helped to reinforce that the pharmacy was a health advice centre providing a whole range of services for the community.
"We can chat to people on the walk and we establish good relationships through the walk. Our customers and patients really appreciate the fact that we are doing something extra for them.
"In fact, the City of Cockburn, which covers Port Coogee, recognises the value of walking groups in the area and kindly provided vouchers for the group to have a coffee or break at the local café after the walk."
"It will enable us to sit down socially and chat and get to know each other better."
Mr Patel said the group was easy to join and the Heart Foundation provided mentoring and advice.
"They also give us ideas about the groups, how to promote them and so on," he said.
"Although our group is new, we have already found it is a great opportunity to serve the local community as we aim to improve their health "
"Though the intention of the group is to focus on serving our community's health needs, the group has helped attract new customers, and engage existing customers."
He said social media had been a major tool in promoting the group.
"Apart from handing out flyers and talking to our customers about it, we use our own Facebook page, and partner with the local suburb's page to promote the group."
The Heart Foundation Walking website can be accessed at http://walking.heartfoundation.org.au or they can be contacted via the Health Information Service on 1300 36 27 87