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The members, the medium and the message: an evaluation of Private-Rx, the information network for UK pharmacists

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The Pharmaceutical Journal Vol 265 No 7114 September 16, 2000
Pharmacy Practice Research
Papers presented at the British Pharmaceutical Conference,Birmingham, September 10 to 13, 2000 pR73

The members, the medium and the message: an evaluation of Private-Rx, the information network for UK pharmacists

By Simon Whitaker, Anthony R. Cox* and Angela M. Alexander

Introduction Internet mailing lists, a popular method of communication, are recognised as providing a virtual community for GPs.1 The objectives of this evaluation were to survey the usage of a mailing list for pharmacists (Private-Rx),2 to identify the benefits of membership, and to classify the topics discussed during one month.

Method The survey used previously validated web technology.3 Members were e-mailed in February, 2000, giving a hyperlink to the survey page, assuring anonymity of replies. Reminders were e-mailed after six and 11 days. Responses went directly to a database, which was analysed using SPSS4 and NUD*IST.5 Late responses were analysed separately for significant differences, to give an indication of non-responders. E-mails posted to the list during January, 2000, were categorised by content.

Focal points

  • Internet mailing lists are becoming a popular method of communication for health care professionals
  • Private-Rx, a mailing list for pharmacists, has members from all branches of the profession and a broad age range
  • It provides a virtual discussion group within pharmacy practice where members raise queries and receive information
  • The topics discussed cover a wide variety of pharmacy-related issues
  • Members gain value from knowing the views of others, keeping in touch with all branches of the profession, and from changes in practice as a result of discussion on the mailing list

Results Responses came from 180 (46%) of the 395 members receiving notification of the survey. The age range was broad, with 43 per cent aged under 40 years and 57 per cent over 40 years; 76 per cent were male. No significant differences were noted between early and late responders.
The members - Membership reflected all branches of the profession: community proprietor (29%) employee (23%) and locum (21%), primary care (14%), hospital (13%), academic (6%), industry (2%) and other (16%); 87 per cent worked full-time, 86 per cent lived in England and 40 per cent had been members for more than a year. In January, 386 e-mails were posted by community proprietors (32%), employees (15%), locums (15%), hospital pharmacists (21%), primary care pharmacists (11%), academics (1%) and others (5%). The qualitative data indicated that many members considered themselves part of a family, gaining value from knowing the views of others and keeping in touch with all branches of the profession. Breaking the isolation of community pharmacy was a common theme.
The medium - The mailing list was read at least once a day by 40 per cent of respondents, while 40 per cent accessed it several times a week and 10 per cent seldom or never accessed it. Twenty-one per cent of respondents posted to the list at least once a week, while 67 per cent seldom or never posted. The reasons for not posting were: not enough time (36%), nothing to contribute (35%), not familiar with technology (19%), or don't want views to be known (4%). The value of the medium was the speed of response and being up-to-date. It was compared with other media such as print and meetings, with one suggestion that it could become a "virtual branch of the Society".
The message - The topics discussed in January were: pharmacy politics (18%), chat (14%), patient problems (13%), legal issues (9%), clinical issues (7%), Drug Tariff (7%), Government policy (5%), business/finance (5%), risk management (4%), supportive (3%), non-pharmacy IT (2%), pharmacy IT (1%), other (10%). The perceived value of these categories varied for the different branches of the profession; community pharmacists were more interested in the Drug Tariff than were hospital pharmacists. Primary care pharmacists gave a higher rating to "moral and emotional support" than any other group of the profession. Private-Rx was rated as highly or invaluable by 34 per cent of respondents, generally valuable by 36 per cent, occasionally valuable by 28 per cent and not valuable at all by 2 per cent. Forty-four per cent of respondents said their practice had changed as a result of information gained from Private-Rx.

Discussion Private-Rx provides pharmacists with a rapid route for information gain, it is perceived to be of benefit, and has brought about changes in practice. It provides a way of keeping in contact with other pharmacists and offers encouragement and support. In emerging disciplines like primary care pharmacy the benefits of being in immediate contact with peers, irrespective of their geographical location, was identified. This evaluation has demonstrated the usage and value of a virtual discussion group within pharmacy practice.

Private-Rx Internet Services, Cardiff; *Aston university pharmacy practice group and City Hospital NHS trust; Maidenhead, Berkshire


1. Roberts C, Fox N. General practitioners and the internet: modelling a "virtual community". Family Practice 1998;15:211-5
2. Private-Rx, the information network for UK pharmacists. URL:
3. Alexander A, Whitaker S. Use of the internet for pharmacy practice research; an exploratory methodological study. Presentation at health services research and pharmacy practice conference 2000, Aberdeen.
4. Statistical package for the social sciences. SPSS Inc, Chicago, US.
5. NUD*IST 4.0 (Non numerical unstructured data indexing searching and theory-building). QSR Ltd, Australia.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 20002930

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