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Siri versus the pharmacist, are we still relevant?

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By Carlene Oleksyn, BSP Pharm, CTH

 

A friend sent me a text the other day. He went to his local pharmacy and was dispensed a drug he has never used before. His text said, “Siri gave me better info than the pharmacist.”

 

When I asked him to elaborate, he said the pharmacist simply read the directions off the label to him (which he could do for himself) and mentioned a few possible side effects. Ultimately, he felt the interaction with the pharmacist was of no use to him.

 

I always find these situations rather embarrassing as a pharmacist, but they are quite typical.

Consider this typical pharmacy scenario. A patient presents for a repeat prescription. The technician at intake enters the prescription, sees nothing has changed and processes it. On the back end, an assistant prepares the product, the pharmacist checks it, and out it goes. At the till the assistant asks, “Do you have any questions for the pharmacist today?” The patient says no, thanks the assistant, and leaves.

 

This scenario happens over and over again in our pharmacies every day. The majority of patients presenting to a pharmacy have little to no interaction with a pharmacist.

 

When do patients interact with a pharmacist? Typically, when they get a new prescription. At this time we provide them with information, or what we would call “counselling”. The problem with this is that pharmacists simply spit out information that is easily found elsewhere. This holds little value to patients.

 

Approximately 92 per cent of adults aged 18-39 now carry a computer in their pocket. Information is at our patients’ fingertips; it’s everywhere. We are no longer the only source of drug information the way we were 20 years ago. Patients can look up the drugs on their prescription before they even get to our pharmacies. If our only interaction with a patient is at the time of providing information (i.e. counselling), then we will shortly be regarded as irrelevant.

 

At a time when pharmacists are pushing to be reimbursed for services from third party payers and government, we must remember that these payers are ultimately patients too. If they feel that a computer algorithm, drive-through dispensing, or a computer kiosk with robotic dispensing is cheaper and more convenient, and they have never seen the value of a pharmacist being involved in their care, then we may as well hang up our lab coats.

 

There are very few pharmacies that engage patients in assessment and shared decision making, chronic disease management and work to develop relationships with patients by following up with them on their drug therapy. Yet, this is where pharmacists need to be. This is what is irreplaceable.

 

Looking at this from a business standpoint, if a patient can walk into a half dozen pharmacies in your neighbourhood and receive the exact same product and information, what distinguishes you from your competitors? Price and speed? If that’s our only competitive advantage, then we’ll always be in a race to the bottom in pharmacy.

 

Carlene Oleksyn is owner of Meridian Pharmacy in Stony Plain, Alberta, and owner and director of the Stony Plain Travel Clinic.