From pill dispenser to health coach and disease manager

Pharmacists' roles changing to cope with ageing society, rising healthcare costs

Pharmacists are generally viewed as people who dispense pills over the counter, and many rarely turn to them for medical advice.

But given Singapore's ageing community, rising healthcare expenditure and manpower constraints, the roles of pharmacists must change.

The Ministry of Health's second permanent secretary Ng How Yue, who was the guest of honour at the opening of the 27th Singapore Pharmacy Congress yesterday, said: "It is... critical for us to transform the delivery of pharmaceutical care so that we can keep our healthcare system and costs sustainable."

Ms Ng Hong Yen, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore (PSS), also noted yesterday that community pharmacists are the most accessible healthcare professionals to the general public, and play a vital role in keeping the Singapore community healthy.

As a way to raise the involvement of pharmacists in the community, a new programme will be launched during the two-day congress.

Called the Medication Therapy Management Training Programme, it aims to standardise practices of medication management in chronic diseases, and build a pool of pharmacists who can provide good medical care in the community.

MORE LIKE A HEALTH COACH

We really see ourselves as a health coach, and because of our very broad training, we can advise people on many things - disease prevention, management, complications and more.

ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR CHRISTINE TENG, former president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Singapore.

Mr Ng also noted that there were already numerous services that have been initiated, which are "transforming community pharmacy practice from being supply-centric to patient-centric".

For example, pharmacists are already helping smokers kick the habit. Under the Start to S.T.O.P (Speak To Our Pharmacists) programme, smokers are put under a six-week counselling scheme where the pharmacists will help design a personal quit plan for them, and provide tips on how to avoid a relapse, among other recommendations.

The scheme has helped close to 10 people since it was launched last month across 24 Guardian, Watsons and Unity pharmacies.

Another programme that involves pharmacists and the community is a diabetes risk assessment scheme launched by Guardian in July last year.

Some 600 people signed up in the first four months of the programme, which is ongoing and involves identifying those at risk of developing the condition, and giving them lifestyle and diet advice.

These programmes help to improve the health of people within the community, reducing the need for patients to go to the hospital or clinic.

"We really see ourselves as a health coach, and because of our very broad training, we can advise people on many things - disease prevention, management, complications and more," said Associate Professor Christine Teng, past president of the PSS.

"And there is no 'wall' between them and you. They don't need to register like in a clinic, they can just walk in and ask."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 24, 2017, with the headline 'From pill dispenser to health coach and disease manager'. Print Edition | Subscribe