Isn’t it time we took community pharmacy more seriously?

Over the past five years, pharmacies have begun to play a significant part in the UK’s health system. As  pharmacy job roles expand and an increased number of patients are being guided through their doors, they are no longer limited to dispensers of prescriptions, but increasingly guardians of the nation’s health. So what more can we do to support them in their role?

Brands2Life’s Health & Wellbeing team headed up to Birmingham to find out more.

Culture change was an underlining theme at this year’s Pharmacy Show at the NEC. Amongst the 400+ exhibition stands and 200+ speakers, there was a clear shift in the services, products and support that was being showcased compared to previous years. Community pharmacies have traditionally been associated with treating minor ailments and a place to pick up prescriptions, however, since there has been a desire to release pressure on the NHS, pharmacy teams are being upskilled to provide broader services and more informed support on prevention and not just treatment.

Only last year, NICE published guidance on how community pharmacies can help maintain and improve people’s physical and mental health, in a move to encourage more people to use a pharmacist for their non-critical health concerns. We now see services range from blood pressure checks, type 2 diabetes tests, sexual health, asthma and pain management and many more in pharmacies nationwide. Moving the pharmacists from behind the counter to become more interactive with their patients has seen a shift in patients using their pharmacist as first port of call instead of their GPs and this came through quite prominently as we observed those exhibiting at the show.

An expansion of services

Pancreatic Cancer Action, were showcasing the materials and support they offer pharmacists, not only on how to manage conversations and treatment for those who live with Pancreatic Cancer, but also to help them spot potential signs and symptoms of the disease and when to refer them to a GP. They even reward pharmacies who raise awareness of the disease in their communities through their ‘Turn It Purple’ campaign.

Parkinson’s UK, were also providing a wealth of support for pharmacy, offering advice on medicine management and what their patients can do beyond medicine to help their wellbeing, way beyond the minor ailment service pharmacies were previously known for.

MSD were providing a free toolkit for pharmacies to set up a chickenpox vaccination service, not typically a treatment considered by most, but giving patients a wider choice.

The increased backing from charities and pharma companies to provide support to pharmacies can only benefit the health system overall, patients with long term illnesses are seen quicker and don’t need to book an appointment and GPs have more time available for complex matters.

However, pharmacy support doesn’t stop there, from this month, pharmacies can register their interest in providing the Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS), which enables them to receive 111 referrals from the NHS supporting calls for ailments such as inflections, burns, and pain, including urgent medicines supply.

Although the CPCS service requires them to opt in, pharmacists are already feeling the pressure with their new broadened role. Shortages in funding, staff and drugs have been cited as the main issues that community pharmacists are being faced with today. 

What we can do to support

So how can brands better support pharmacists to meet today’s growing demands?

Here are three considerations when connecting with pharmacists and delivering content relevant to them.

1. Engage and enquire

Don’t base your thinking on assumptions.  You risk your content falling short of the mark.  Take the time to find out what you can about the pharmacy team. Sometimes it can be as simple as asking the right questions to the right people. If you can get under the skin of pharmacists and find out their pressure points, what drives them, their role and what they want to learn, you can start to build a profile and understand what considerations need to be made to deliver something that resonates.

2. Relevance and Reach

Sometimes there can be too much focus on the pharmacist alone and brands fail to include support for the whole pharmacy team. Medicine Counter Assistants for example are usually the first point of contact and the face of the pharmacy. We know that pharmacists have a keen interest in learning about how to grow their business and reputation, so they are very welcoming to new training that manages and motivates their entire staff.

3. Deliver and delight

When planning your communications or training, bear in mind that most training happens after work or at the weekend.  The days are simply too busy delivering patient care. So whatever you send them, make it engaging, easy to access and bite-sized. There are more ways to deliver educational materials, so think out of the box. Can it be delivered via video or even VR, a podcast or forum? Is it interactive and entertaining? Frequently, marketeers fail to treat healthcare professionals as consumers too.  Yes they want the clinical information relevant to their role, but they want it to be inspiring too. Other things to consider are:

  • Length, they like it snappy
  • Accreditation, they need this for their continued learning
  • Fresh content, they like to learn something new

By simply taking time to understand the pharmacy teams better, this will not only give them a better opportunity to stay ahead of their own development and manage their hours better, but it will help patients receive the advice they want, the services they require and the drugs they need from a pharmacy they trust.

This blog post was written by our Health & Wellbeing team.

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