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How digital technology is paving the way for change in community pharmacy in Wales

As the role of community pharmacy continues to make a pronounced shift towards a more integrated, patient-focused approach to care, our Clinical Lead for pharmacy, Cheryl Way, takes a look at how digital is playing an important role in shaping its future.

The way the community pharmacy sector has been willing to embrace change has been one of its biggest successes. The outbreak of COVID-19 has forced change upon every part of our healthcare system and propelled forward new, innovative ways of managing and delivering healthcare in the most testing of times.

Local pharmacies have continued to play a vital role in delivering care, providing advice and maintaining essential services in the community all while under enormous pressures. During the peak of the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak, many GP practices moved towards a more remote model of care delivery, minimising face-to-face consultations where possible. The doors of the community pharmacies however remained open throughout, and pharmacists are increasingly becoming the first point of contact for patients who would ordinarily have booked an appointment with their GP.

Community pharmacies have, however, been at the heart of a shift towards more patient-centred care for a while. The Welsh Government’s vision for health and social care, ‘A Healthier Wales’, is driving changes in community healthcare that will ensure the evolving health and social care needs of current and future generations can be met. This includes developing the community pharmacy workforce, improving collaboration across healthcare sectors and embracing innovation and technology. By 2022, the strategy aims to make pharmacies the first port of call for patients with common ailments in every instance, and by 2030 for every pharmacy in Wales to have an Independent Prescriber.

So how is digital playing a part in this vision for a more patient-focused future?

In Wales, the Choose Pharmacy IT platform, which is enabled by software created by NWIS, was initially developed in response to a commitment from the Welsh Government to provide an NHS funded common ailments service to the public. It has, however, since led the way for greater collaboration between healthcare providers and improved patient care through the sharing of information.

In addition to enabling a common ailments service, the platform is integrated with the NHS Wales network. This gives community pharmacists access to medication details within a patient’s Welsh GP Record, allowing them to provide emergency medicines supply. It also facilitates the sharing of medication information for patients recently discharged from hospital, supporting pharmacists to carry out discharge medicines reviews.

Last year, the NHS funded Sore Throat Test & Treat (STTT) service was piloted through Choose Pharmacy in health boards across Wales. A total of 94% of patients who received a STTT consultation reported that they would have made an appointment with a GP had the service not been available, and less than one in five consultations resulted in antibiotic supply – emphasising the pivotal role that community pharmacists can play in antimicrobial stewardship.

In June this year, a new module of the Choose Pharmacy application, the Independent Prescribers' Service (IPS), was launched to support community pharmacists who have qualified as independent prescribers to provide patients presenting with certain conditions access to effective advice and treatment. It allows pharmacists access, with permission, to a patient's Welsh GP Record, helping them make informed healthcare decisions, digitally record the consultation, generate a GP summary or referral letter and create a digital patient history. This then moves with the patient if they change pharmacies.

In the wake of the first wave of COVID-19 and on the cusp of the second, work is currently ongoing to introduce new technology such as video consultations to support pharmacists in providing safer and more accessible healthcare options for patients.

Making better use of digital, data, and technology is helping to raise the quality and value of health and social care services here in Wales, changing the way care is delivered and bringing it closer to home. While technology will never replace the expertise of a healthcare professional or remove the need for personalised, face-to-face consultations, it is a key enabler for an enhanced, more seamless and safer patient experience.

Digital innovation is already allowing for huge strides forward in the way care is delivered to patients in community pharmacy settings. Together with the Welsh Government and our partners across NHS Wales, we will continue to use advances in technology to help people get the best health and medicines outcomes. It’s about making change happen for the benefit of our healthcare system and for transforming patient pathways.