Do you know what your pharmacist does?

Published: September 25, 2013
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Pharmacists play a vital role in health care, including drug composition, administration and monitoring drug use and effects. PHOTO: REUTERS

All around the globe, World Pharmacist Day is celebrated on September 25, in order to show respect for this important, yet often overlooked, branch of health care. 

The responsibilities of a pharmacist are many and varied ranging from patient care to dispensing medications; and from monitoring patient health and progress to maximizing their response to the medication. In addition, pharmacists are also responsible for educating consumers and patients on the use of prescribed drugs and over-the-counter medications as well as for advising physicians, nurses, and other health care professionals on drug decisions.

Since they also have expertise in the composition of drugs – their chemical, biological, and physical properties – as well as their manufacture and use – they also help to ensure drug purity and strength, and that drugs do not interact in a harmful way. All in all, pharmacists are drug experts ultimately working to improve their patients’ health and wellness.

Due to their immense knowledge in drug composition and administration, pharmacists can make tremendous contributions to raise awareness and increase access to effective vaccines. In addition, there are programs which provide an interactive forum for pharmacists and patients. One such program is the Medication Therapy Management (MTM) upon which 11 American national pharmacy organisations achieved consensus in July 2004. This program requires pharmacists to work with patients to review and monitor their medication plan in order to maximize its effectiveness and prevent potential health problems, ultimately helping to reduce costs in the long run.

With approximately 1.5 million preventable adverse drug effects occurring every year as a result of medication errors, MTM programs can greatly improve patient safety as well as improve long-term profitability. Pharmacist-provided MTM has resulted in cost savings of as much as a 13:1 Return on Investment (ROI) according to a study reported in the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association.

Community pharmacists also play an increasingly important, yet covert role in the fight against diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, HIV, diabetes and other chronic diseases. They provide information to patients in order to help them manage their condition more effectively and avoid costly complications. In addition, they also offer testing supplies and instruct them in the usage so that patients are able to monitor their condition.

However, in order for these efforts to succeed, patients must have access to pharmacists. Unfortunately, in Pakistan only 8-10 percent pharmacies employ qualified pharmacists to attend to their customers.

In addition to the general responsibilities of pharmacists outlined above, pharmacists can help improve health care in Pakistan by targeting specific areas such as:

  • Create awareness about vaccinations in order to improve vaccination rates – which are still unacceptably low in Pakistan, particularly in the cases of Tdap (tetanus–diphtheria–acellular pertussis), pneumococcal and measles vaccines.
  • Improve maintenance of the cold chain. This is still an issue in Pakistan which often causes vaccines to lose their efficacy and can ultimately become hazardous for the patient.
  • Ensure involvement in the Polio Eradication Initiative Program. Involvement of pharmacists in the field in the form of Area-In-Charges and Polio Campaign Monitors can make major headway in polio eradication due to their enhanced knowledge and expertise.
  • Overall public health can be improved by educating parents about the importance of vaccines for their children; maintaining records of immunizations in the District Health Information Management System; and by serving as advisors within the health care community.

Hence, there is a clear need for this faction of health providers in Pakistan to prioritise and strengthen the approval process of The Pakistan Pharmacy Council Bill 2013, presented by Senator Abdul Haseeb Khan. This bill calls for the establishment of the Pakistan Pharmacy Council, the objective of which will be to regulate the practice of pharmacy in Pakistan.

Ultimately, only a firm commitment by the concerned authorities and implementation of policy level changes regarding the important role of pharmacists in the field of health care; in addition to awareness programs for the general public, pharmacists can play a vital role in the improvement of public health in Pakistan.

Ahmed Saeed Malik

Ahmed Saeed Malik

A Doctor of Pharmacy from the University of Sargodha, working as Public health Pharmacist in non-profit international organisation. He tweets @PharmDianz (twitter.com/PharmDianz)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.