Tap pharmacists to help care for ageing population

It is clear that the need to improve the skills of future healthcare workers is fuelled by a rapidly shrinking workforce ("30,000 more healthcare workers needed by 2020 to cater for Singapore's ageing population: Health Ministry"; ST Online, Oct 20).

Doing more with less, by leveraging new technologies and deepening the expertise of doctors and nurses, is not just logical but also a necessary step.

However, we should not forget the role of pharmacists in the community healthcare system.

In some parts of Britain, pharmacists are allowed to prescribe a limited range of drugs, such as hormonal contraceptives, medication for tobacco withdrawal therapy, and travel medicine.

In some states in America, pharmacists can order laboratory tests and manage patients' medications according to the results.

In countries such as Australia, pharmacists are allowed to administer vaccines.

Perhaps there is more that retail pharmacists in Singapore can be gradually allowed to do, to relieve the workload of doctors and the strain on hospitals and polyclinics.

Analogous to the primary-care vision of "One Singaporean, One Family Doctor", a "One Singaporean, One Pharmacist" concept, with multiple new patient-pharmacist touchpoints within each neighbourhood, can further deepen patient-pharmacist relationships.

This could translate into higher and more sustained motivation to take ownership of one's health, and better medication awareness, compliance and safety outcomes.

Therefore, I urge the health authorities, academia and professional bodies to evaluate the feasibility of evolving the pharmacy profession to further add value to the healthcare ecosystem of our ageing population.

Li Ze Zong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2016, with the headline 'Tap pharmacists to help care for ageing population'. Print Edition | Subscribe