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Looking up from down under

From the shopkeeper vs professional debate to the uptake of technology, issues affecting Australian pharmacy don't look so very different to the UK, says Terry Maguire

Terry Maguire recently attended the recent Pharmacy Guild of Australia conference in Vietnam. Here's what he learned about community pharmacy's development in the Commonwealth country, which echoes that in the UK


It's time to choose: retail or healthcare?

Community pharmacy in Australia needs to focus on either retail or healthcare, says pharmacist Dan Gilbertson of accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers; it cannot do both because of competition from others in both sectors.

Activity in Australia had contracted 2 per cent in the last two years, he told delegates, and was unlikely to expand until the sector reached a funding settlement with the government. There is a real danger, Mr Gilbertson claims, that community pharmacy in Australia will fall into decline unless the profession is decisive about its future direction.

His analysis suggests greater benefits lie in healthcare as the Australian population ages and provides greater opportunities for development of services, whereas retail competitors are becoming more aggressive and it will take significant resources to compete effectively in this space. Pharmacy needs to build a unique selling point in healthcare, Mr Gilbertson argues, and, in particular, to take advantage of the emerging e-health and m-health (mobile) technologies.

Pharmacy in Australia might fall into decline unless the profession is decisive in its future direction

Technology uptake is slow

However, the uptake of such technologies remains slow, says Paul Naismith, CEO of Fred IT, the largest pharmacy computing software supplier in Australia. He outlined to the conference progress on the patient care electronic health record (PCEHR) programme, which is designed to give every Australian an electronic medical record including real-time information on prescription and OTC medicines supplied by pharmacies.

Fred IT was commissioned to develop an ‘e-cloud' repository for electronic prescriptions. This has been delivered but is yet to be used widely by patients, doctors or pharmacists. The e-cloud solution offers the reality of paperless prescriptions and improved prescription data management, yet only 800 of the 5,500 pharmacies in Australia have signed up. Unless numbers improve, pharmacies run the risk of being dropped from the scheme, Mr Naismith warns.

One of the main problems with the service is patients failing to understand the benefits, he says, and to combat this the government is planning a ‘drop-out' process to replace the current "opt in" one. But Mr Naismith says healthcare professionals also seem reluctant to get involved and are in fact more concerned about patient confidentiality than patients themselves. The Facebook revolution has encouraged everyone to be more comfortable with information about us being publicly available.

More by Terry Maguire:

We must save ourselves

Slow news is good news for pharmacy

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