Date: 10 November 2021
The important role community pharmacies play in ensuring patients have continuity of care has never been more evident to me than in the past two years of COVID-19.
Continuity of care has always been a principle of community pharmacy practice. Talking to patients about their medicines, undertaking medicines reviews, liaising with allied health professionals about a patient’s treatment – the list of how pharmacists and their dedicated staff ensure continuity of care is indeed a very long one.
One thing that is very clear is that a major factor in successfully providing continuity of care for patients is the trust that communities have in pharmacists. Pharmacists’ advice is valued and respected – and more often than not acted upon by patients. In addition, the accessibility of community pharmacies means they often are available after hours and on weekends to counsel patients and provide advice. Like most Australians this accessibility is something I truly value.
All this interaction between pharmacists and patients has many benefits. It can speed up a patient’s recovery, provide confidence for the patients, and in many cases prevent hospitalisations which in turn saves the national health budget substantial amounts every year. Basically, it helps to keep our enviable health system viable.
Now COVID-19 has lifted this commitment to continuity of care though community pharmacies to a new level.
The pandemic has raised unforeseen difficulties for many patients and community pharmacists have been quick to react.
One of the issues I have noticed that has been brought into sharp focus during the pandemic has been the inability of some patients to pay for their medicines. To ensure continuity of care, community pharmacies have risen to the challenge through innovative measures including financing schemes and payment options so that patients can get their medicines. Some pharmacies even offer waivers on medicine costs in certain circumstances.
Patients who are isolating or quarantining and cannot get out to pick up their medicines has seen pharmacies develop new home delivery systems, to ensure they get their medicines. Some pharmacies are delivering up to 50km from their premises and the use of specialised software has enabled efficient route development to ensure such services can be maintained.
Expanding pharmacists’ reach to patients can be further optimised and one area that is providing opportunities is partnering with patient groups to focus on the particular needs of that organisation’s patients.
A good example of this is the charity Redkite, which supports young cancer patients up to the age of 18 - and their families - with financial assistance, emotional and mental health support, information and resources to help them cope with the challenges of childhood cancer.
Redkite has a network of social workers in hospitals and in the community who are helping to support children with cancer, but additional support for these patients is always needed.
The role of community pharmacies in providing continuity of care for many patients in the transition between hospital and other care is well documented, and is responsible for saving countless patients from falling ‘between the cracks’ on discharge from hospital.
However, Redkite’s experience shows that 13 per cent of single parents with a child who is sick forgo some meals to afford their medication and other essentials, and this is a situation which rightly appals all of us, and is one example of why the Guild is urging a reduction in the general PBS co-payment.
In situations like this, helping these patients takes on an urgency which cannot be ignored.
However, it is not just in the area of helping to ensure patients get their medications that community pharmacies can help ensure continuity of care for these young cancer patients.
Redkite has put forward some suggestions - which are equally applicable to other patient groups - and these include developing a shared care model in the community. This would involve investigating and establishing referral pathways to Redkite via community pharmacies interacting with the family
Exploring ways to provide better care to families upon their transition home is also a priority.
I raise the example of Redkite and pharmacists’ role in continuity of care because the profession is changing and the range of services provided that offer convenience and continuity of care for patients will grow as pharmacists continue to progress towards working to their full scope of practice. As this happens, we will see pharmacists offering more services to improve the health and wellbeing of patients.
With this in mind, pharmacists are constantly looking for new ways to help patients get the maximum benefits from their skills and knowledge. The Redkite experience offers a glimpse of what other opportunities are out there, and how much patients can benefit from them.
Contact: The Guild