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How do I encourage a patient to see a pharmacist?

We are employing a pharmacist to help with treatment reviews and to see minor acute illness but we are finding resistance from some patients to seeing him, with receptionists reporting that patients are requesting appointments with 'a proper doctor' instead. How do we respond?

Pharmacists offer many potential benefits to general practices. They can free up doctors’ time, deliver cost-savings to the NHS through more rational prescribing, and improve the quality of patient care. For example, pharmacists can improve patients’ understanding of their medication and their adherence to their drug regime. An increasing number of general practices are now using pharmacists and their role will be further expanded when the GP Forward View is implemented. However, some patients may be unwilling to see a pharmacist and insist on seeing a doctor.

To overcome this resistance, it is essential that all staff are briefed about the role of the pharmacist and what to say to patients who express concerns about seeing him. This process should start before the pharmacist is in post, as should a discussion of the role of the pharmacist with the practice’s Patient Participation Group. The staff briefing should reinforce points such as pharmacists being highly trained professionals; pharmacists who work in primary care will have undergone additional training such as an Independent Prescribing Course; by taking on work such as medication reviews and the management of minor illnesses, pharmacists can allow doctors to spend more time with complex patients; and that pharmacists can always seek advice from a doctor when needed. You could also include this information on your practice website, in any induction pack given to new patients and in your practice newsletter.

If some patients remain reluctant to see a pharmacist, they could speak to a more senior member of the practice team such as the practice manager or deputy manager. If however a patient remains unconvinced by these explanations, I would let them see a doctor. Attitudes towards pharmacists will change over time and patients will eventually come to understand that they are highly skilled professionals who have a valuable role to play in primary care.

You can read my article, and also those of some other doctors, in Pulse.

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