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Pharmacy talks are the right medicine to raise awareness


Professor Paul Gallagher’s lecture series puts ordinary people in touch with pharmacists

Professor Paul Gallagher’s lecture series puts ordinary people in touch with pharmacists

Professor Paul Gallagher’s lecture series puts ordinary people in touch with pharmacists

HAVE you ever wondered what your pharmacist is doing with your prescription when they disappear behind the counter for so long? Well, besides making sure you are getting the correct dosage, for the right duration and at the correct intervals, pharmacists have a legal responsibility to make sure you are getting the right prescription and that your prescription is not fraudulent (a significant number of people died in Ireland last year through misuse of benzodiazepines).

These days, many of us use our local pharmacist as much more than a dispenser of potions and pills. Next to Google, pharmacists are probably the most frequented contact point for free advice (and probably a little more reliable too).

Professor Paul Gallagher, head of the School of Pharmacy of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, thinks we should be getting the best out of our pharmacists. With 1,816 chemists on the island, they're nearly as accessible as pubs in this country.

Prof Gallagher runs a lecture series in the RCSI every year, putting ordinary people in contact with pharmacists in an attempt to make them more aware of what their local chemist can do for them.

The average person visits their community pharmacy 19 times in the year. It's one of the most accessible networks of healthcare professionals in the land but the question remains: are people using their pharmacists optimally? Prof Gallagher thinks people are not fully aware of the range of services a pharmacist now offers. Have you ever thought of using your pharmacist to get help with giving up smoking? Statistically you double your chances of succeeding if you avail of the counselling services provided by your pharmacist for helping you to give up smoking.

"Patients can schedule a medication usage review with their pharmacist. Pharmacists are now using consultation rooms and developing a new skill set around that and they need to be more proactive and make their services on offer more explicit."

Gallagher started his 'Mini-Med' lecture series as a sort of education outreach programme for the greater community, and they ran in parallel to a 'brown bag' event at RCSI, where the public could bring their medication and supplements to an appointment with an RCSI pharmacist, and find out more about and how it may interact with other medications and supplements.

"We were all surprised by the amount of supplements and phyto-nutrients and herbal preparations that people are taking," says Gallagher. "The idea came from the United States to increase people's knowledge of medicine, and to avoid adverse drug reactions," says Gallagher.

It's also a way to give people a better understanding of how not taking their medication as instructed can affect them. People not taking their medication is a huge problem says Gallagher. Sometimes it's inadvertent and other times it is deliberate – when people feel better, they are often tempted to stop taking their medication because they think 'I don't need this anymore'.

A recent study found that 30 per cent to 50 per cent of people with chronic diseases don't take their medication as prescribed. Prof Gallagher quotes the shocking statistic that 48 per cent of asthma deaths are caused by non-adherence to medication. "That's significant," he says. Not to mention the waste associated with non-compliance."

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There are all sorts of reasons why people don't take their medication. "Adherence is really complex," he says. "One of our researchers here has looked into the behavioural reasons behind why people don't take their medicine. There are social, emotional and environmental factors. People are testing out and forming impressions and then adjusting their medication on the basis of their findings. They're worried about side effects, about being addicted to drugs, they often think that a holiday from medication is a good thing for their health. But they're not health professionals. That's why part of the lecture series includes one-on-ones with pharmacists so people can test their beliefs, sit down, and ask a lot of pertinent questions that allow them to reach their own conclusions."

Some of the questions asked on these nights include things like 'how can I tell if it's working?', 'what is the minimum effective dose?', 'is my medication really necessary?' and 'can I take a natural remedy?'. One of Prof Gallagher's aims with the lecture series is not only to educate but also to improve our understanding of the changing role our local pharmacist plays in our everyday lives. The advent of medicines previously classified as prescription but now available over the counter means the pharmacist is providing a new sort of service.

"The role is changing as we move towards a Universal Health Insurance model. The general context is a shift from apothecary to someone who is a care-giver and that care-giving is done through optimising the use of people's medicines and supporting people to live healthier lives in a kind of public health role that is supporting people to self-care."

For more information on the MiniMed series see www.rcsi.ie/minimed.

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