Pharmacy at the heart of rural communities

  • Alexander Look and Nicholas Wong 
    Alexander Look and Nicholas Wong
  • Ouyen Pharmacy shopfront
    Ouyen Pharmacy shopfront
  • Nicholas Wong taking blood pressure measurement with female patient
    Services provided in the pharmacy
Anna Johnstone
By
Anna Johnstone
Communications Manager,
Pharmacy Guild of Australia
Issue
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Community pharmacies are often the cornerstone of healthcare in regional, rural and remote Australian communities. In places like Ouyen, a small town in country Victoria, these pharmacies are not just a place to pick up medications but a vital part of the community's healthcare system. The transformation of a small pharmacy in Ouyen by pharmacists Alexander Look and Nicholas Wong is a testament to the crucial role these establishments play in remote areas.

Ouyen, with its population of around 1,000 and located about 440 km northwest of Melbourne, is similar to other Australian towns where access to healthcare services is limited. When Alexander and Nicholas took over the local community pharmacy, they shifted its focus, taking it from retail and giftware to include a thriving dispensary and healthcare hub. This broadened the availability of healthcare for the Ouyen community, providing services not previously available in the town.

In rural towns like Ouyen, the role of a community pharmacist extends beyond dispensing medications. As Look explains, “We feel that we can make such a huge impact on our patients' health [in a rural town]”. The isolation and scarcity of specialists and general practitioners in these areas present both a challenge and an opportunity for pharmacists. They often become a valuable source of information and a crucial point of contact for patients. In Ouyen, the local hospital and GP rely heavily on short-term locums, with a new doctor arriving every two weeks. This situation places community pharmacists in a unique position to offer continuity of care, bridging the gap between different healthcare providers and managing patients' conditions.

The journey of the Ouyen Pharmacy under new management highlights the potential for growth and the positive impact on community health. Look reflects, “When I was ‘locuming’, we were able to identify lots of opportunities for growth... we could make a huge difference to the community.” Living in the community, participating in the local economy, and understanding local issues has helped build trust with patients, reinforcing the pharmacy's role as a central part of community life.

Technology has also been instrumental in the growth and efficiency of the Ouyen pharmacy. By integrating artificial intelligence with their dispensing system, the pharmacy can predict stock levels accurately, generating orders quickly and focusing more on patient-centered services. Technological advancements have helped them to expand their services significantly.

The pharmacy in Ouyen now offers a range of health services, including medication reviews, sleep apnea treatments, diagnostics, and vaccinations, services previously unavailable in the area. The addition of other health providers practicing within the pharmacy, such as pathology services, nurse practitioners for skin checks, and heart health assessments, has transformed the pharmacy into a health destination which is addressing more than just medication needs.

The story of the Ouyen pharmacy is a clear example of how community pharmacies are at the heart of rural and regional Australian communities. They not only provide essential health services but contribute to the local economy and the social fabric of these communities, demonstrating the critical role they play in the overall health and wellbeing of rural Australia.

To hear more from Alexander Look, listen to Small town, big challenge: Taking over a rural pharmacy podcast.

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