Health Service Focus

31.07.19

National Pharmacy Association: Community pharmacy in the digital age

From July/August issue of NHE
 

Harpreet Chana, the National Pharmacy Association’s digital programme director, discusses the journey ahead for the pharmaceutical sector in the new age of digital.

Advances in digital technology have already significantly changed the way healthcare is delivered and experienced. Pharmacy is no exception, but there remains a long journey ahead, both for our sector and the wider health and social care system.

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) believes that pharmacies must be progressive and modern, whilst at the same time being true to the historic values of pharmacy as a personal, caring profession; efficient healthcare with a human touch.

We want to help our members, who are pharmacy owners, to operate efficiently, integrate more fully with other health services, and give patients the best possible experience of pharmacy services. Our membership is varied and some members run small businesses, so it is difficult for them on their own to invest in technology the same way that a bigger ‘multiple’ can do. Part of our role is to do some of the vetting of technology providers for them and describe the digital landscape in a way that everyone can understand. This is against the backdrop of potentially substantial changes in pharmacy business structures and the scope of pharmacy practice in the near future.

Championed by the current health secretary, there are now a myriad of digital solutions and apps available for patients to take more control of their own care, with their individual patient record at the centre. Many of these allow patients to access their medical history and order their repeat medicines online.

In addition, interoperability across healthcare providers, including those in primary care, is an important feature of seamless care and we want to make sure that community pharmacy is connected digitally as well as culturally to other parts of the health service.

Harpreet Chana

Harpreet Chana, the National Pharmacy Association’s digital programme director, discusses the journey ahead for the pharmaceutical sector in the new age of digital.
 

The Digital Minor Illness Referral Service (DMIRS) is perhaps a sign of things to come. DMIRS, which is still in pilot phase and not yet available nationwide, involves referrals from NHS 111 following an assessment by a call advisor. This leads to the patient being transferred for a consultation with a community pharmacist instead of being booked for an urgent GP appointment. The pharmacist carries out a consultation with the patient in the privacy of a consultation room and assesses symptoms of minor illness. The ‘digital’ bit of DMIRS is the software that enables a straightforward referral into the pharmacy.

DMIRS fits the NPA’s vision for a tech-enabled sector, better integrated with other health services, with pharmacies operating efficiently as neighbourhood health and wellbeing centres and recognised as the front door to health care.

Some uses of technology are controversial in the sector, for example the growth of online pharmacies. Modern consumers, including NHS patients, expect online to be part of their experience. However, local pharmacies provide a range of NHS and non-NHS services close to where people live, work, and shop and, for most people, is the first port of call for advice and treatment.

There is more consensus around calls for pharmacists to have ‘write access’ to patients’ summary care records (read access is already widespread), so that they can make the patient’s GP aware in real time of any interventions that have been made by the pharmacy. This could include, for example, a blood pressure measurement, a flu jab or advice about the use of prescribed medicines.

The NPA plans to help our members use digital technology to deliver pioneering new services, keep up with modern consumer expectations and integrate effectively with other parts of the healthcare system. If we can achieve that, we will have done a service not only to members but to the millions of people who use and value pharmacies across the UK.

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