Essential expertise: pharmacists stepping up

By Kristin Michaels*
Tuesday, 27 February, 2018

Essential expertise: pharmacists stepping up

Hospital pharmacists, pharmacy assistants and technicians cast a wide net in the Australian healthcare system, partnering with and empowering patients to make informed decisions about their medicine use on hospital wards, in primary care clinics and during home-based reviews.

As evidence-based healthcare professionals, hospital pharmacists are committed to regular review and self-reflection, empowering and expanding what works and disrupting the areas that need improvement.

When it comes to sustainability, a focus on supporting the tools, skills and partnerships of hospital pharmacists offers a three-tiered pathway to boosting the longer term efficacy and efficiency of this pivotal healthcare workforce.

Smart people behind the smart tools

There has been much recent discussion of the economic benefits of automation, following the release of the Australian Government Productivity Commission’s Shifting the Dial: 5 Year Productivity Review report in October 2017. When diligently trialled and consistently reviewed, technology can play an important role in supporting the timely, accurate and complete transfer of medicines information when patients are at their most vulnerable: moving from hospital to the home, or vice versa.

A health initiative in New Zealand — introducing smartphone apps to improve care by allowing patients to access to their medical records, schedule appointments, view lab results and request repeat prescriptions — is being watched closely to ensure improvements do not exacerbate disparities of care between digital ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.

In Australia, hospital pharmacists are playing a key role in the design of the My Health Record system, ensuring medicines information is accessible, understandable and effective in the digital world.

While technological advancement will continue to be a key driver of improvements in health outcomes, it is essential that any move to adopt digital innovations in pharmacy is cognisant of pharmacists’ unique expertise and experience, potential risks associated with medicines use and the patient’s experience of their own health care.

Flexible skills and Advancing Practice

There are two components to building a more flexible and adaptable pharmacy workforce: supporting Australian pharmacists to realise their full potential through subjective but structured professional development, and entrenching an objective, autonomous mechanism through which pharmacists can gauge their comparative professional strengths and weaknesses.

For hospital pharmacists, pharmacy assistants and technicians, these key components are already up and running.

In November, SHPA launched the pilot year of its Mentoring Program, which will enable mid-career pharmacists to draw on the skills and experience of senior pharmacist mentors to build confidence, sharpen focus, dismantle barriers and grow job satisfaction. It is Australia’s only mentoring program for pharmacists based on one-on-one interactions, crucial to fostering personal and professional growth.

That same month saw the timely establishment of Advancing Practice — an independent authority to collate and evaluate pharmacists’ evidence and testimonials against five domains. A contemporary, cloud-based program, Advancing Practice endorses the career progression of pharmacists through third-party review, measuring the influence of individual practice on the broader profession and improvements to patient care.

It is both a catalyst for, and a milestone of, career advancement as part of broader efforts to build a more highly skilled, flexible and adaptable pharmacy workforce that will sustainably serve the Australian public for decades to come.

Breaking down barriers

Studies consistently show that optimising quality use of medicines — through prudent deployment of hospital pharmacists wherever there is patient need — strongly benefits the health budget bottom line, aiding the sustainability of the sector.

One such approach involves entrenching hospital pharmacists in multidisciplinary medical teams. A major Australian hospital-based study found that for every dollar spent on a clinical pharmacist to initiate changes in medicines therapy or management, approximately $23 was saved on length of stay, readmission probability, medicines, medical procedures and laboratory monitoring.

At the same time, designing healthcare models that enable synergies between health professionals that boost health outcomes is a goal we are all invested in. A recent one-month trial at a Sydney teaching hospital saw pre-admission clinic pharmacists complete 72 medication charts as part of an intervention to find out the impact they would have on chart accuracy and completeness; pharmacist involvement charting lowered inaccuracies from 41.1% to just 1.4%.


Hospital pharmacists are equipped and ready to manage greater uptake of digital tools, expand their complex skill sets, and enhance and entrench partnerships that break down professional barriers, all of which improve patient outcomes.

Harnessing the expertise and experience of hospital pharmacists by supporting the profession to step up is a shot in the arm of sustainability and a win for Australian patients.

*Kristin Michaels is the Chief Executive Officer of The Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia, with a keen interest and experience in health system design. She is a seasoned board director in the primary, acute and aged-care sectors. Kristin holds qualifications in arts, organisational leadership, governance and health service management. She is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors and is accredited as an international partnership broker.

Top image credit: © Studio

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