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(March 7, 2002, Gazette)

A new initiative that builds on solid tradition
Seamless care

Healthcare is becoming faceless as budget cuts replace humanity with efficiency and automation. Healing is human, but waiting lists and lines are so long that patients do not even expect to recognize the face at the end of the line. Through all the health care changes, one tradition remains constant, that of the community pharmacist.

Community pharmacists are just that, part of the community. The pharmacist is the one recognizable face in the healthcare arena that patients can visit without an appointment. Pharmacists can answer simple questions, such as how to increase dietary fibre; and they also help to resolve complicated issues, such as drug interactions. Pharmacists are expanding their traditional role as the link between the physician and the patient, to provide seamless care.

What is seamless care? It is the philosophy that patients should move from one part of the health care system to another with continuous care. As patients progress through the health care system, they see many different professionals in several settings. Nurses, dieticians, social workers, primary care physicians and specialists may become involved in a single patient’s care at the family doctor’s office, the outpatient clinic or a hospital. Keeping track of the treatment plans is vital and the community pharmacist is the ideal professional to link all the others together. Pharmacists can identify any potential problems as they arise, consult with other healthcare professionals to resolve issues and monitor outcomes of therapy. It is also an understated but important role of the pharmacist to monitor and advise on over-the-counter medications that patients may select for themselves. Many health care providers and patients are unaware of the interactions between over-the-counter products and other prescribed therapies. As seamless care and patient options expand, so will the education of the pharmacist.

Already educational institutions are incorporating non-traditional treatment components into their pharmacy curriculum. Pharmacists of the future will need to understand the issues surrounding self-care choices such as herbals, dietary supplements, and homeopathy as these therapies continue to gain public popularity. Pharmacists today are educated to be technologically savvy. For example, in the future we will see communication systems that will link pharmacies in real-time with all other parts of the health care system. Pharmacists are learning to use technology as a tool to enhance the provision of seamless care. The role of the community pharmacist is evolving, but technology will not remove the approachable, recognizable face of a community pharmacist.

Tina Browne is a second-year pharmacy student at Memorial University who has written this article to promote the national Pharmacy Awareness Week from March 4-10, 2002.