Rural and regional Australia to benefit from prescribing plan

  • Rural pharmacy and street

This time next year we’ll be marking the 40th birthday of Medicare.

Whether it’s a time for many happy returns depends on how we improve our health system in the coming months and beyond, especially in rural and regional Australia.

Like many of us when we turn 40, it’s time for a major health check, maybe even some changes to our lifestyle if we want to be around longer. The truth is, at 40 years old, our health system is now out of condition. It’s not as fit as it used to be, in fact some critics say it’s no longer fit for purpose.

The recent meeting of National Cabinet revealed the first phase of reforming our health system will be the centrepiece of the upcoming Federal Budget.

You would have heard a lot of talk that part of the solution is pharmacists and other health professionals being able to work to their full scope of practice to utilise existing resources.

One suggestion is for pharmacists to be able to treat and prescribe medicine for conditions such as ear infections, uncomplicated urinary tract infections or asthma (to name a few). Such a move would have huge benefits in rural and regional areas.

Recently the Pharmacy Guild of Australia commissioned accounting firm EY Australia to quantify the benefits – to patients, the health system and the wider economy – of pharmacists being able to work to their full scope of practice.

The report found that this reform would:

  • free up 346,000 hospital days
  • free up 51,000 hours in emergency departments
  • cut the number of general practitioner (GP) consultations by up to 5.8 million
  • benefit the economy by $4.5 billion.

Rural and regional areas of Australia would arguably stand to benefit most because access to pharmacists in these areas is very high.

It means someone in rural and regional Australia suffering an uncomplicated urinary tract infection, for example, could have this condition treated in a more-timely manner if seen by a pharmacist if there is a long wait time for a local GP.

The Pharmacy Guild’s own data show that two-thirds of Australian residents in rural communities live within a 2.5-kilometre radius of a pharmacy.

In regard to prescribing, there are already other professions that can autonomously prescribe – including dentists, optometrists, podiatrists and some midwives – within safe and effective guidelines. So why not your community pharmacist who is a medications expert?

Enabling pharmacists to prescribe is not only patient-centred, it is patient-directed health care and has been the case for years in numerous other western countries. It puts patients who live outside our major centres at the centre of health care.

As those in rural and remote Australia already know, sometimes trying to see a doctor isn’t an option. In some communities there just isn’t one and that’s why residents in these areas are up to six times more likely to have not seen a GP.

And if you do have access to a GP, ask yourself this. If you have an uncomplicated medical condition that can be treated quickly and effectively by a pharmacist, doesn’t it make sense to ease the pressure on the already overworked doctor or doctors in your area by utilising the skills and training of that pharmacist?

This is not about pharmacists trying to be doctors. It’s about pharmacists being the best they can for patient care, and about helping fix the health system.

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