By Jen Baker BSc.Phm.
During my time as a pharmacist, I have seen the impact of change on my chosen profession, and I have come to understand the critical importance of advocacy in ensuring that further changes will continue to help the profession to help patients.
Advocacy has no start or end date. It is an ongoing effort that frontline pharmacists must be aware of, committed to, and engaged in. What we do in our practice every day will give direction to the profession. We will expand and evolve, or retreat and suffer setbacks.
I am looking forward to decades in the pharmacy profession. Advocacy will shape what that future looks like for me, my patients, colleagues, and province. The effort we expend today will not bring immediate results. The impact will be felt in five years or 10 years, but without our collective and continued efforts today, that impact will be, at best, minimal; at worst, we will lose important gains, and patient care will be less robust, effective and broad-based.
Each community pharmacist is a patient advocate, helping our patients navigate more easily through the complex healthcare system. As effective advocates, we support our patients and help address their needs, but we must learn to better articulate the value we provide to the patient. Only then can we ask patients to support our profession in providing additional, more diverse and much-needed services to our communities.
In many instances, advocacy can become part of our daily routine. When we speak to patients, we can reframe the conversation, subtly but importantly, so they better understand what we do as frontline pharmacists and are aware of the services we provide now – and can provide in the future.
As a profession, we need to take a hard look at the practice of waiving fees and discounting services, as it is essential that patients and policymakers truly see value in our professional services. We may also need to collectively change our language so it’s patient-focused and easily understood, with the potential to yield noteworthy results in patient and community support.
Such ad hoc advocacy can often be accomplished by adding only an extra 10 or 15 seconds to a discussion with a patient. Patients will understand the value we add to them and the healthcare system. They will then become advocates as well. They may not be conscious of their role as advocates, but their support will be there to be counted on. Ultimately, the support of the patient will resonate most importantly with Canadian policymakers. Patients’ awareness of the key role pharmacy plays in healthcare means they are more likely to speak up when it matters most.
Of course, every pharmacy is different and will have a distinct patient demographic – and that has implications for advocacy. It will help define and direct our outreach efforts. It will bring a focus to our work as the voice of patients who use our services.
An important step in our advocacy journey is identifying gaps in service and ways to remedy them. This can include everything from working hand in hand with physicians and other healthcare professionals in our communities, to contacting our local elected representatives for a tour of our pharmacy, to reaching out to our employers, where appropriate, to discuss improvements and advances.
Time is always an issue for pharmacists. We have busy practices; there is always a script that needs to be filled, a patient who needs to be counselled. Still, we need to find time for what is important – and advocacy is essential. We need to ensure we have supportive working environments to safely and effectively deliver the expanded services our patients require of us. We need to take a few minutes out of our day so our patients’ and our own future can be brighter. We must take time to envision what our future could and should look like. Then we must shape that future, together.
Jen Baker is a pharmacist and chair of the board of directors of the Ontario Pharmacists Association