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Giving patients a better clue

Patients and the public could do with more information about the clinical role of pharmacists — but more research is needed, too.

Primary care on a scrabble board

Source: Jason King

The concept of primary care is a bit lost on the public. That is the gist of a survey report from Pharmacy Voice, the NHS Alliance, the Optical Confederation and the National Community Hearing Association, published in July. The survey of more than 2,400 people also reveals that only a third understand that community pharmacies fall within the scope of primary care.

That is unsurprising, since “primary care” is a term created and used by health professionals. Healthcare, like many areas of science, is littered with jargon that makes the disciplines poorly accessible to people unfamiliar with the language. Not so much of a problem in, say, astrophysics. But in healthcare it is crucial for patients to understand how to access available services.

Take the example of “medicines use reviews” provided by community pharmacists in England and Wales. Not too cryptic, but perhaps “medication check” would convey a simpler idea to promote to patients.

Consider, also, “medicines optimisation”. The NHS England concept that helps patients get the most out of their medicines has limited meaning beyond healthcare professionals and managers. Certainly, patients can reap the benefits when the health service is delivering medicines optimisation initiatives well. But it would be confusing if pharmacists were to use the term when talking to patients.

The 2013 report ‘Now or never: shaping pharmacy for the future’, commissioned by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, highlighted that there is insufficient public awareness of the range of services offered by pharmacists. It described a “pressing need to demystify” pharmacy so that patients and the public can understand the full extent of pharmacy’s care-giving role.

A person who has no idea what the term “primary care” means, or what clinical services a community pharmacist can provide, might have little chance of realising that local pharmacies form part of primary care provision.

But there are also gaps in pharmacists’ knowledge of what patients and the public understand about pharmacy’s place within care pathways. Pharmacists do not fully understand how their expertise is perceived, and there is much to learn about the confusion that surely exists around pharmacy’s retail and professional roles.

The charity Pharmacy Research UK acknowledges these gaps; patient experience and understanding of pharmacy are among its priorities for research funding.

More must be done to educate people about all sectors of pharmacy, but the messages should be greatly simplified and guided by a broader base of evidence.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 20066062

Readers' comments (1)

  • Great Editorial. No joking but I was with a professional group last week who do a lot of outreach with citizens and they asked me what I meant by 'community pharmacy'!
    Health Literacy ( is a hot topic at the Patient Information Forum, a network we've been trying to get the RPS to join for years now...but the decision seems stuck in some committee somewhere. And I thought the RPS had changed ;(

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