Community pharmacists are often hesitant to engage in advocacy. They think it is not their role or their area of expertise. They need to think again.
By Mark Reder
First and foremost advocacy is about enhancing patient care.
There is a widely held impression that advocacy means lobbying. It doesn’t. Lobbying can be part of advocacy, but the reality is that if you are lobbying government, decisions may already have been made. Ideally, effective advocates are involved at the earliest stages of policy descion-making and are consulted along the way.
There is a misconception that advocates must be loud and demonstrative. The reality is that most advocates – like most community pharmacists – do not need to be outspoken voices in the heath system. They do not have to pound tables. They are trusted and can be looked upon to bring solutions to the discussion.
The issues that interest and engage government are your issues. The decisions that a government makes affect your patients and your practice. It is essential that you be a central part of the process. The voice of your industry association is important, but it is only magnified by the experience and the insight of a community pharmacist.
When speaking about your patients, practice and community, you are influential. That doesn’t mean all your recommendations will be endorsed, but it does mean they will be on the table and they will be considered. Expanding scope of practice, for example, cannot happen in isolation. It can only occur because government is looking for ways to enhance patient care while reducing health care costs – and community pharmacists are willing to work with patients and other health professionals to bring about changes.
Finding that voice can be difficult. From the outside, government can resemble a big, impenetrable fortress. While this is not necessarily the case, government is definitely a large entity, and it can take time to attain results.
In addition, pharmacists are often uncomfortable in the role of advocates. This is a new area, one they didn’t train for, and one that may not come naturally. There is a tendency to leave advocacy to the “professionals,” but no one can speak on behalf of patients as well as community pharmacists.
The most effective advocacy is ongoing. It requires getting involved and getting involved over time. That can be daunting and it can be a lot of work, but it doesn’t have to be. The issues that affect your pharmacy affect other pharmacies. Advocacy is a team sport. Find out what your industry organization is doing and how you can help during the time you have available. Work with colleagues. There really is strength in numbers.
As a successful advocate, you need one key attribute: patience. Staying power is fundamental to the process. Government juggles many priorities – it can take years to change or introduce legislation – and your expectations must match the reality of the landscape.
It is also hard to measure the impact of advocacy. Indeed, in many cases, success is characterized by what did not happen rather than what did happen. Good advocacy sometimes can be defined by the absence of poor policy.
Ultimately, government is interested in the health and well-being of the population. That puts the community pharmacist in an incredibly important position. The government is not standing in a pharmacy speaking with patients. You are – and you bring that distinctive insight to the decision-making process.
Sharing what you know does not mean leveraging patient relationships. It means speaking out for your patients. In many cases, only the community pharmacist can describe what it means for patients to be in a particular situation. That description will be uniquely yours, in your voice.
It’s not about pushing for this or demanding that. It’s about bringing informed insight to the conversation and to the decisions that are eventually made. It’s about making sure that patients’ needs are at the heart of the discussion.
It’s about enhancing patient care.
Mark Reder is Senior Vice President, Senior Partner, and General Manager FleishmanHillard, Vancouver