Dr Zubair Ahmed, Co-founder and CEO of Medicspot, looks at how GPs and pharmacists are using virtual clinics in primary care.
Since founding Medicspot four years ago, I’ve been working very closely with independent pharmacists and GPs across the UK. If you ask either whether there’s scope for a closer working relationship between the two professions, they will almost certainly say yes.
To deliver optimal care, it is vital that pharmacists and GPs join forces. A stronger working relationship between the two professions is not only good for patients but also helps improve professional development for pharmacists and can help reduce the pressure on the stretched primary care system.
Possibilities are emerging for pharmacists to become more integrated with general practice. A key part of the NHS Long Term Plan is the implementation of primary care networks (PCNs) that could see a typical 50,000 patient PCN employ six full-time clinical pharmacists. The evolution of PCNs is promising, laying the groundwork for a closer working relationship between the healthcare professions within the local community.
However, there is still more that can be done to better integrate community pharmacy within our health system and secure its place as the first port of call in primary care. Community pharmacies often benefit from longer opening hours, with many open late at night, on weekends and even public holidays. Pharmacies also dramatically outnumber GP surgeries and are often situated in convenient high street locations, offering unparalleled access to primary care.
For decades, the NHS has tried to convince the public to visit their local pharmacy first with limited success. As a practising GP, I understand all too well that the first step for many people is to visit their GP practice, even for minor ailments that could be swiftly remedied by a skilled pharmacist. Furthermore, a recent survey from Medicspot1 revealed 73% of pharmacists believe that the public are generally unaware of what pharmacists are capable of.
One explanation for this is that the capabilities can vary considerably from pharmacy to pharmacy. While some pharmacists can independently prescribe and are confident delivering consultations under the NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS), others have limited expertise and lack confidence in managing some clinical presentations. This is a crucial hurdle to overcome in our endeavour to make community pharmacy the first point of contact within our health system.
While investment in a nationwide training scheme could help subdue this issue, advancements in technology have opened the door to an innovative solution that could enable every community pharmacy in the UK to deliver consistent, high-quality care.
This is achieved by converting often under-utilised pharmacy consulting rooms into virtual clinics, allowing community pharmacies to level the playing field in terms of capabilities by tapping into a pool of GPs and prescribing pharmacists as and when they need to.
Medicspot was the first healthcare provider to introduce this innovation to community pharmacy in 2016 and now operates in 300 independent pharmacies across the UK. It works by turning pharmacy consulting rooms into virtual clinics where patients can get seen by a clinician via video link.
Within these virtual clinics, GPs and prescribing pharmacists can perform a full clinical examination with connected devices operated by the patient, including a stethoscope, blood pressure monitor, pulse oximeter, thermometer and close examination camera.
The devices have been designed in a way that makes them easy-to-use for patients and in most cases, patients are comfortable using the equipment themselves. However, in cases where a patient requires assistance with the devices, a member of the pharmacy staff is always on hand to help. After the consultation is complete, any prescriptions are sent directly to the pharmacist to dispense, ready for the patient to collect on their way out.
Virtual clinics not only save patients an extra trip by allowing them to get seen by a doctor and collect their prescription at the same time, but they also provide an additional revenue stream for pharmacies and allow GPs and independent prescribing pharmacists to benefit from flexible working.
This technology enables pharmacists to become tightly integrated with general practice in ways that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. Through improved collaboration between healthcare professions and the willingness to adopt new technology, community pharmacy will be at the forefront of primary care; improving the accessibility, quality and consistency of care for patients everywhere.
Dr Zubair Ahmed is the Co-founder and CEO of Medicspot. Go to www.medicspot.co.uk
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