Pharmacists can play a Critical Role in Enhancing Healthcare Delivery in India
Pharmacists constitute the 3rd largest group of healthcare professionals around the world. A majority of pharmacists in India are involved in community settings which serve as the initial level of contact between individuals of a community and healthcare. With the Indian pharmaceutical market expected to reach $21 billion by FY21 growing at a CAGR of 4.5% and sales of medicines registering significant growth over the past year, the role of pharmacists from simply dispensing and distributing medicines and health supplies should undergo a major shift that'll help fill the gaps in healthcare and contribute significantly to national health efforts. Even though pharmacists are of key importance in providing better healthcare, it is unfortunate that the majority of patients do not find any difference between the grocer and the pharmacist. It is the need of the hour is to make pharmacists an integral part of the healthcare system to deliver better health care.
How Pharmacists Can Enhance Healthcare in India?
The involvement of pharmacists can play a critical role in the following areas of healthcare in the country:
Proper Usage of Medicines
A pharmacist can advise on the administration of medicines, give information on storage requirements, and wherever required, he can counsel the patient. A pharmacist can serve as one of the inevitable members of healthcare delivery by guiding patients on the rational use of medicines by adhering to good pharmacy practices. Research has found out that when pharmacists explain to patients about the medicines prescribed to them, it can significantly increase patient knowledge on the correct use of medicines from 56 percent to 90% percent.
Also, in India, nearly 70% of the population is deprived of essential drugs due to various reasons including the non-availability of health professionals and improper professional advice about the use of drugs. The existing number of pharmacists in India can play an important part in improving access to drugs and their safe utilization.
Community pharmacists can become an excellent source in assuring adequate nutrition to patients by advising them on the basic food needs, correcting bad food habits in children, suggesting special diet for those with a food allergy or diabetes, and participate in campaigns held in rural areas to educate people about the necessity of balanced, nutritious diets. Facts like people who consume fish are less prone to suffer a stroke, symptoms of hypervitaminosis can cause irregular menstrual cycle, nutraceuticals/ dietary supplements can offer numerous health benefits and more can be communicated by pharmacists to ensure better health.
Educating People about Sexually Transmitted Diseases-AIDS
As per the latest report (2019) of the Government, India is estimated to have around 23.49 lakh people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV) in 2019. The cost of antiretroviral therapy (ART) used to treat HIV is quite expensive and beyond the reach of a significant proportion of the population. Pharmacists can help in the prevention of HIV/AIDS by raising awareness and providing information such as what is HIV, its transmission, risk factors, prevention methods, etc.
Personalization of Drug Therapy
Personalization of drug therapy described as customizing drug selection and drug dosing to a given patient is one of the biggest trends in medicine today. When a physician is preoccupied with patient diagnosis isn't able to spare time for patient counseling regarding drug information, pharmaco-economics and alternative therapy, moral support, etc. a pharmacist can provide counseling to the patient. He can store the details of patient history, allergies, and other necessary details for treatment so that the concept of individualization of drug therapy can be implemented.
What needs to be done to Increase Pharmacists Participation in Healthcare?
With a severe shortage of medical professionals and a lack of properly-trained providers in India, maximizing the knowledge and skills of pharmacists can help bridge the gaps in healthcare and provide a platform for different levels of professional development.
While in most cases it has been observed that pharmacists have the technical skills and competencies but often lack the foundational knowledge needed to exploit their skills to the maximum, as health practitioners. Those pursuing their career in pharmacy should be trained in basic public health competencies to efficiently manage the health of communities, the essentials of program planning, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation.
With the advancement of technology and innovation, implementation science is being used to understand how to translate evidence into everyday practice so that it can be utilized across public health issues from drug safety to mobile health. Implementation research can help provide the required data to the government to support the integration of pharmacists into public health services. As pharmacists will develop their niche in public health, the need will arise to understand how and why pharmacy services can enhance the health and well-being of people throughout the country in resource-limited settings.
Also, there is an immediate need for dually trained professionals in pharmacy and public health. Though a small number of pharmacy colleges in India offer dual degree programs with PharmD/MPH options but overall, pharmacy students are only exposed to public health concepts on a momentary basis. A handful of the courses are devoted solely to public health in pharmacy, and virtually there are no textbooks to emphasize the role of pharmacy in public health. As a result, there exists an urgent need for pharmacy schools to incorporate public health and pharmacoepidemiology courses into their curriculum and train pharmacists as future public health professionals.
In the Indian healthcare context, there is underutilization of pharmacy and community pharmacy practice. Pharmacists working in community pharmacies do not provide patient counseling in the usual situation. The government and health organizations must work closely with the pharmacist associations and share common experiences and frame appropriate guidelines so that pharmacist's role in providing better health care can be recognized.