Our profession has a tendency to adopt a negative view on professional life.
It is, for example, common for pharmacists to reflect on the apparent lack of efficacy of the various pharmacy bodies in getting our message across or effecting change for good. The reality is that change is a slow and difficult process. Persuading stakeholders – many of whom have a deep-rooted, vested interest in keeping ‘pharmacy’s tanks off their lawn’ – is never going to be an easy task.
On top of this, we have the frustration of convincing health departments – which repeatedly tell us that more use needs to be made of pharmacists’ skills – to implement policies that allow this to happen.
But two recent developments are cause for optimism. The first is the inclusion of a flu vaccination service within England’s national contract. This comes on the back of the success of a large number of local schemes, which demonstrated not only pharmacists’ ability to deliver a flu vaccination service but also the potential to achieve extensive reach through the network’s inherent accessibility.
The second is arguably more significant: access to patient records. For as long as any of us care to remember, all attempts to achieve this have been resisted vigorously. This resistance has been particularly marked among the medical profession, which seemed to believe it had a god-given right to be the arbiters of what is in the best interests of patients.
Climbing out of the vacuum
As a result, pharmacists have been working in a vacuum in terms of delivering care. So, when a query arose, they either needed to signpost patients to another healthcare agency or attempt to contact the GP – a very frustrating process. It also highlights the lack of ‘joined-upness’ within the NHS and suggests pharmacists are peripheral to the primary healthcare team.
Those days are now, it seems, behind us. Following a hugely successful project to create a summary care record (SCR) sourced from the GP record, many pharmacists are now able to access this record online and sort out queries about medicine-related and other healthcare queries.
It is a huge understatement to say that access to the SCR will enhance patient care. Pharmacists are already enhancing their role in areas such as prescribing, vaccination and dealing with minor ailments. Having access to accurate and up-to date information will not only make pharmacists’ lives easier, but will also improve patient safety and increase their access to services.
And it seems that patients are comfortable with giving pharmacists access to their data. The recent pilot project gave patients the ability to opt out and only 1% exercised this right. This has to be seen as a reflection of the trust and confidence that patients have in pharmacists.
At present it is England taking the lead but I assume other UK countries will follow. And as it stands, access is read-only, but it must only be a matter of time before this is extended to both read and write access.
John D’Arcy is managing director of Numark