Sunday, 20 November 2011

A pharmacist is not just for handing out pills – the need to understand each other’s roles

I’ve just been ‘eavesdropping’ a conversation on Twitter regarding a recent, but not original, news event about a pharmacist refusing a patient the ‘morning after pill’  (also known as PCC - post coital contraception) due to religious reasons.

The gist of some of the comments were that the patient had been unnecessarily inconvenienced and embarrassed and pharmacists simply need to take the packet of pills off the shelf – no big deal.  I quote one doctor ‘It’s in a packet. Instructions are inside. Px (prescription) has been given. It’s easy- just give the meds surely’. The same, highly respected (by many in healthcare, including me) and influential doctor goes on to tweet ‘maybe the third way is to have a vending machine dispensing ‘off limits’ medicines such as PCC

To try to give a balanced view (I aim not to subscribe to the Daily Mail method of health reporting) I should point out that the same doctor went on to say, wisely, that she wasn’t singling out pharmacists – ‘we all need to reflect’ and another tweeter (or is it tweep?) commented ‘…we all need to understand each other’s roles better’

I trained and practiced as a pharmacist for a decade before moving into healthcare administration. I must confess that I am old enough to remember mixing potions (I’m a great cook thanks to the rigorous discipline required in following formulae) - even making ointments and suppositories from scratch and when I first qualified very few medications were in premeasured packs. But then, like now, a pharmacy degree and post graduate training was in-depth, comprehensive and vital in producing highly knowledgeable and skilled specialists.

One of the aspects of my profession that often saddened me was not only the lack of understanding between doctors, nurses and pharmacists, but also the thinly veiled contempt that was held between different branches of the profession. I have worked as a pharmacist in hospital, retail and pharmaceutical research establishments and can personally vouch for the validity and complexity of each role.

I think, and hope, that things have come a long way since the 70s when pharmacists first started to play an active role in dispensing on patient wards and actively counselling patients in a retail setting. I also think there is more mutual respect across all branches of healthcare. But not enough.

I’m not brave (or even foolish) enough to get embroiled in the pros and cons of conscience of dispensing certain types of contraception, but one point that will always engage me is the value of each professional branch of delivery of healthcare services and the integration of that delivery.

Yes – that old chestnut. As a facilitator of clinical pathway mapping exercises, I often have to remind the organisers to include representatives from the entire patient pathway. Pharmacists included. Understanding and appreciation of the vital role that all of those associated with professional patient care should start in the classroom or lecture theatre and continue through induction and on-going development.

That is the only way we can provide truly integrated patient care – and enjoy multidisciplinary harmony along the way.


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