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How do Pharmacists see Their Roles?

Chris Wright
Dispensary Systems Perspective

Issue 73: July 2008
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The very persistent editor of i2P, one Neil Johnston, generally makes his presence felt during the third week of each month as he rustles up the troops for material for yet another edition of i2P. After having confessed to suffering from some sort of “writer emotional hiatus” by not being able to wrap my limited mind around anything remotely interesting, I stumbled out of a Pharmacy in close to tears of mirth after a very amusing encounter with two Pharmacists. They were genuinely perplexed at my expression of surprise that I had actually found two Pharmacists in the same room with a sense of humour.

The circumstances of the raucous fun has no relevance here, but it made me think about the different personalities in Pharmacy and how they see their roles in dealing with staff, customers and patients.

Having been in just about every Pharmacy in Victoria over the last 40 years in another life, I’ve had the mostly good fortune to meet some marvelous pharmacists. As a young fella, I remember well the fun that was ever present in my local Pharmacy in Essendon. George Lewis and Golly Attwood managed banter with people that has all but vaporized. George in particular was well known for his ability to produce stunning hangover cures……..and the accompanying repartee was as much fun as the cure…………so I believe.

I remember the old Sigma days, when account numbers had just four digits and the computer that produced invoices was the size of a swimming pool .I remember the Chairman, Alan Mansell turning up to Board meetings in his old Vanguard looking as though he’d just come from the farm, the archetypical pharmacist of the day….kindly and smiling.

No doubt pharmacists of yesteryear did not suffer the burden of financial survival as they do today. Also, the pressure of dealing with the public has increased out of sight. Aggressive impatience has taken the place of quiet respect.

The question of how Pharmacists see their roles is a complex one.

Pharmacists are becoming more in tune with adhering to professional values these days rather than having a manic attitude to controlling everything around them. Obligations  are being met and the unrewarding, mundane tasks are being pushed aside for others.

Pharmacists are finally making up their own minds about what’s actually important .I know of several pharmacists that still fill the old “pill-boxes” for elderly patients, simply because a few patients fear the new blister DAA’s. Clearly, patient care and satisfaction is the over-riding factor, rather than having procedure and regulations dictate the working day.

The strange relationship between the PGA and the PSA and their respective roles continues to confound Pharmacists and industry observers.

The PSA, being the “Pharmacist union”, cannot act in the manner as its all powerful brother, the PGA.The PGA of course, has the buck’s, and therefore the power. However, it is beyond this writer that Pharmacists appear to regard the PGA as their industry leader, rather than the PSA. I say this with no small amount of tongue in cheek, but why would the PSA not start exerting its power by saying; “Our members licking labels with a science degree…….we think not!”
Or; “Our members will only action 200 prescriptions per day!”

When will somebody say; “200 script’s generates $2,400 worth of income, yet our members are paid $280 per day………..this is an outrageous situation!”

I mention the two industry bodies in the context of there being an unhealthy level of apathy amongst Pharmacists with regard to voicing their views. Far too many place blind faith in the PGA and little faith in the PSA. The fact is, it should be the other way around. The constitution of the PGA is to further the betterment of Pharmacy, and as such, has no interest in individual Pharmacists, unless of course they are amongst the elitist group that brandish brands regularly seen on TV.

The lack of interpersonal skills is no doubt a strong contributing factor in the lack of ability for many Pharmacists to be able to derive income for “fee for service” situations. Whilst this is slowly changing, there remains a gap which is mostly generational. Another problem is that pharmacists have a reluctance to charge for services because of the fear of attrition. Also, there is a variance of attitude towards this on this by pharmacist proprietors and pharmacist employees.

Competition plays a big part in this, but as many successful people say;“If you’re going to go broke, go broke for charging too much, not for charging too little.”There is plenty of truth in this, but still we see the word “Discount” everywhere.

As for the discount culture, some years ago a friend decided to think outside the square a touch by running a special on a gentle antacid and promoting it with a display in the front window. Within two days he was set upon by Darth Vader from the PGA and told in no uncertain terms his behaviour was quite beyond the pale. Yet today, Paracetamol is sold in dump bins with the same aggression that Bunnings sell screwdriver kits.

For those Pharmacists that are concentrating on professional values, good on you. For those that are locked in a sausage making environment and cannot develop yourself or concentrate on professional values……….or, any values, you must find your voice and discuss with the PSA.

Young Pharmacists that find themselves in a sausage factory surrounded by a combative environment aren’t doing themselves or the future of Pharmacy any favours by biting their collective tongues.

The sad thing is, nobody is listening anyway, because sausage making has not only been accepted by the leaders of the fiefdom, but is becoming almost de rigour because of commercial pressure.

Maybe those disenfranchised lonely unbranded Pharmacies owned by the politically unconnected so reviled by the PGA that are actually working hard to maintain professional values hold the key to setting standards……….

Chris Wright.

July 2008.

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