Community pharmacies and GPs: Complements, not rivals

20161230100000, Mak Wen Yao 
Community pharmacy and GP: complement, not rivalry
The community pharmacy sector in Malaysia has seen steady progress since its establishment in the country. From the early days of "drug store" that dispense medicine to today's comprehensive provider of health-related products, community pharmacy has transformed itself to become an integral part of the healthcare sector.

Pharmacies across the country now provide wide-ranging services to the public. In particular, they are well positioned to provide urgent care for minor illnesses such as fever, stomach illness and certain minor skin conditions. Many of these community pharmacies are also increasing their opening hours to complement that of the clinics and hospitals; it is very common to find an operating pharmacy during weekends and public holidays, and most of them are opened late into the night.

Nonetheless, there are critics who pointed out the unbalanced distribution of these community pharmacies between urban and rural areas. In fact, statistics from the Pharmaceutical Services Divisions showed the majority of these pharmacies are concentrated in large cities such as Penang and Kuala Lumpur (1). Such uneven pharmacy distribution may impact the profession's ability to deliver efficient service across the country. However, it is important to note the time needed for pharmacies to extend outward from the cities. Financial consideration is still an important element in maintaining the survivability of the business, let alone making profits from it.

No dispensing rights for pharmacists in Malaysia

Community pharmacies in the country have a unique professional relationship with other healthcare professionals. This is particularly distinctive with general practices (GPs), who operates private clinics. There are overlapping professional working areas between them, such as the treatment of minor illnesses or supplying long-term medications to patients with chronic conditions.

At the moment, Malaysian pharmacists do not have the dispensing right, a privilege enjoyed by their counterparts in the neighboring countries. Instead, such rights were included in the services provided by GPs. Moreover, the absence of universal insurance coverage for patients when they utilise the private healthcare facilities further complicate the matter.

Nonetheless, community pharmacies should be viewed as another helping hand in improving the state of Malaysia's public health. In addition to traditional services such as the supply of medication – against prescription or over-the-counter – community pharmacists are adept in the provision of additional health services such as checking blood pressure, providing counselling on the proper usage of inhalers or reviewing patients medications. These services have been shown to improve patients compliance and conditions.

Community pharmacies to complement GPs in preventive healthcare

The relationship between the two professions should not be a rivalry - they should complement one another. While lacking both dispensing and prescribing rights, community pharmacies in the country have since developed a unique position in the healthcare sector. Pharmacists realise that the healthcare trend today does not focus solely on curing diseases, but prevention plays a central role too. Additionally, consumers in the country are progressively becoming sophisticated and demand better professional advice on both health supplements and beauty products.

Under these circumstances, community pharmacies are in the perfect position to fill in the gap for these demands. Unfortunately, these pharmacies remain underutilized by the public. With both GPs and hospitals under increasing pressure to maintain the nation's health, pharmacists will progressively take on a more vital role in the provision of primary care to the public (2). Such transformation should be viewed positively by both the pharmacy and other medical professions as it will ultimately benefit the health care sector in general. MIMS

Read more:
A snapshot of community pharmacy in Malaysia
"Highly competitive market" causing Malaysian community pharmacists to barely stay afloat
Career development for Malaysian pharmacists: Hospital or Community Pharmacy?

Sources:
1. Pharmaceutical Services Division. Bilangan Farmasi Komuniti di Malaysia Mengikut Negeri [Internet]. 2013 [cited 2016 Dec 13]. Available from: http://www.pharmacy.gov.my/v2/ms/content/bilangan-farmasi-komuniti-malaysia-mengikut-negeri.html
2. Kaiser Health News. Pharmacists increasingly take on clinical roles [Internet]. 2014. [cited 2016 Dec 29]. Available from: http://khn.org/news/pharmacists-see-clinical-role-expand/