RADIO INTERVIEW: Pharmacists role in primary health care

Dr Fei Sim, PSA National President on Radio 2SM

17 August 2022


PRESENTER: I welcome along today to join us from the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia National President Dr Fei Sim… Welcome Dr Fei how are you?


DR FEI SIM: Good afternoon, thank you so much for having me.


PRESENTER: You’re most welcome. I said that was my prediction , and that came from what we went through in the last couple of years with COVID-19 – how that impacted us and our health – and really the role that our chemists and pharmacies played in stepping up and helping people out. Helping them out with flu symptoms, to get a jab, and the role they played there. Do you think I’m looking toward the next five years as correct in what I say?


DR FEI SIM: You raise a really good point there, it’s almost like you’ve got a crystal ball in front of you . I think we can all agree that because of COVID-19, you know COVID-19 has really changed how health professionals practice, but more importantly it has how Australians like to seek health care. What we’re seeing is that the Australian health system is under enormous pressure and in your introduction you mentioned the critical issue we have at the moment which is a GP access crisis with some of the reports we’re receiving saying that wait times are up to four to five weeks. COVID-19 has seen people come through community pharmacy doors, coming to speak to community pharmacists, as their primary health care providers, so I think your prediction there is definitely right and that pharmacists are ready and are here to provide a greater primary health care role in the community.


PRESENTER: Dr Fei can you give me an overview of what we’re facing at the moment and what the doctors are facing with the bulk billing issue?


DR FEI SIM: We all agree that at the moment that there is a GP access crisis, and based on the latest national survey less than fourteen per cent of medical graduates want to go into General Practice. So, the issue is here to stay and of course adding in bulk billing issues it really is going to affect consumer’s health seeking behaviour or the affordability of seeking health care. As a health system as a whole we need to enable all healthcare professionals to practice to their top of scope, so in this case for instance there are things that a pharmacist can assist with to better serve the health system, for instance, you know, vaccinations, minor ailment management and triaging people so we can reduce unnecessary emergency department and GP presentations. Pharmacists can help with renewing prescriptions for people who are on long term medications, for instance, or even collaborative prescribing. All of this is to free up valuable time of our GPs because our GPs are one of the most highly skilled and highly trained providers, and we need them to be doing more.


PRESENTER: With our daily health needs, one of the biggest requirements as you go in with ongoing health concerns is getting your script filled, and to go to a doctor just to get your script filled or to go along those lines, and then to find that you’re going to a doctor who is having issues with bulk billing … Is this an area you think we’ll be leaning more toward a more support role by the chemists and pharmacists assisting where you might not have to go to a doctor in the future and have that consulting and health relationship with pharmacists?


DR FEI SIM: That certainly is one of the innovative ways to better serve the health system and of course there will be different patient needs so going by the example you gave there, if someone has a chronic medical condition and they’ve been stabilised on a long-term medicine… The stats are telling us that the average Australian visits a community pharmacy eighteen times a year, they’re already going to their pharmacists, so provided that their medical conditions are stabilised and they’ve been stabilised on their long term medication then yes, in those instances pharmacists can assist in renewing those prescriptions, doing monitoring, but at the same time liaising on the ground with their GP if there’s anything that requires referral. The pharmacist can then facilitate referrals to a GP, that way it frees up GP’s time to undertake more complex cases. So, all together the main message here is that we need to work together at a primary health care level to prevent emergency department and hospitalisations so our whole health system can be more sustainable.  


PRESENTER: Do you see more of a stronger collaborative role between the GPs and our pharmacists in the future?


DR FEI SIM: Well, what I can share is that on the ground pharmacists and GPs work very well together, especially during COVID-19, you know, we have so many examples of where pharmacists work so closely with their GPs. If a GP is seeing a patient through telehealth, if the patient needs any additional support, GPs actually work really well with the pharmacists. And pharmacists are well trained, you know, they know whats within their scope of practice but also knows trigger points where someone needs to be referred to their GP and the whole triaging process and prioritisation will help people who need to see their GP first get to do that. Then other people who have their condition stabilised and require monitoring if instance, the those things can be managed definitely by a pharmacist as part of routine practice.  It’s already happening at the moment, it’s about normalising and formalising that moving forward.


PRESENTER: Dr Fei, COVID-19 really opened our eyes to the services that our chemists and pharmacists can offer us, can you tell me what we might look at as expanded services that we may be able to utilise from our chemists and pharmacists in the future?


DR FEI SIM: Well, during COVID-19 pharmacists actually kept their doors open, and we’ve had that health needs where we need as many people in our public be vaccinated, even if I use vaccination as an example, but we’ve really stepped up to ensure that we can vaccinate as many people as we can in our communities to reach the vaccination target. So definitely I do see pharmacists playing an expanded role to other types of vaccines as well as other services like minor ailment management, and the example you gave in your introduction about cold and flu symptoms… you know, you should be going to your pharmacist first and allow pharmacist to triage that first. Also people on chronic medications to actually see their pharmacists for ongoing prescriptions.


PRESENTER: Dr Fei, our health needs are so many and varied at the moment in Australia, everything from the paediatrics and new childbirth issues in a new baby, weight issues in Australians, right through to diabetes issues and type two diabetes… all these issues I believe are things at the front of mind for chemist and pharmacists?


DR FEI SIM: Yes absolutely, so there is definitely already a trend now for pharmacists to be doing more and offering more professional services. So the examples that you gave there, we’re doing a lot more health screenings. For instance, screening and monitoring people for their blood glucose levels, for their cholesterol levels, and if they require weight management or even smoking cessation, or infant and child health, you know, all of these are about bridging the gap and filling in the gaps but also at the same time making sure that if the person requires additional specialist care that the pharmacist can then facilitate that referral.


PRESENTER: Joining us this afternoon from the PSA this afternoon, Dr Fei Sim, thank you for joining us…