Planning for Better Health

Giving pharmacies a bigger role to play in cardiovascular health

Dr Daniel Sabater-HernándezImagine popping into the local pharmacy for a check of your blood pressure, cholesterol, medication, diet and exercise regime. Your condition is monitored and recorded to an expert standard, providing health professionals with an up-to-date snapshot of your overall health. And if required, you are referred without delay to a GP.

This is not the current practice in the Australian health system. Yet if it was, it would represent a major improvement to the standard of healthcare in Australia. That’s why Dr Daniel Sabater-Hernández, a researcher in UTS’s Graduate School of Health, has made it his mission to enhance the pharmacist’s contribution to society. He is now working to create a community pharmacy service that could reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease (CVD) for patients and the health system.

Dr Sabater-Hernández says the goal of his project is to improve the current system to become more sustainable. “It’s about collaboration and always respecting other health professionals, knowing when to refer patients and how to collaborate with GP’s and specialists,” he says.

Dr Sabater-Hernández’s research involves collaboration with UTS’s Institute for Sustainable Futures (ISF) and fellow ISF researcher, Dr Dena Fam, who engages key players and provides planning vital to the project’s success.

“We develop processes, set up workshops and analyse qualitative data with the aim of getting people thinking about how to create change and visualise what needs to happen for a community pharmacy service to become a reality,” says Dr Fam.

Growing up in the Canary Islands, Dr Sabater-Hernández was able to witness the trust his local community placed in his family’s pharmacy.

“Pharmacies are under-utilised and can do much more to reduce cardiovascular disease,” he says. “They have wide knowledge and expertise and are in a unique position to educate people about potential risk factors and closely monitor medications.”

Sixty-one-year-old Ron Garner would welcome such a service in cardiovascular care. He was diagnosed with higher than normal levels of cholesterol 15 years ago. He now attends his local pharmacy’s sleep apnoea clinic.

“We develop processes, set up workshops and analyse qualitative data with the aim of getting people thinking about how to create change and visualise what needs to happen for a community pharmacy service to become a reality.”

“I go regularly for check-ups. It’s convenient. I don’t have to wait six weeks for an appointment with a specialist and it’s cheaper,” says Garner.

Pharmacist Catherine Bronger, managing partner of Chemistworks Group, likewise believes pharmacists are in a perfect position to deliver a cardiovascular service and is excited about the prospect of one in her own pharmacy network.

“Patients come in regularly to pick up medicines or inquire about minor ailments so we are usually their first point of contact for advice. We can build on that relationship and use that trust for better patient outcomes,” says Bronger.

For Dr Sabater-Hernández, who has spent years working on the project, the collaborative aspect is exciting – “to change the system, to change policy, to improve health, we need to bring people together. You cannot do it alone.”

CVD is the leading cause of death in Australia, accounting for 30 per cent. Figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare put the number of people with some form of CVD – coronary heart disease, stroke, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure – at more than 3.5 million. Medicines to treat CVD cost the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme about $1.8 billion in 2012-13.

The four leading risk factors for CVD are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking.

Dr Sabater-Hernández says the 5000 or so community pharmacies in Australia are well placed to screen and manage, with other healthcare professionals, the major cardiovascular risk factors before they lead to heart attack or stroke.

Dr Sabater-Hernández and Dr Fam held their first community pharmacy workshop in July, with a gathering of health professionals from across the sector. A follow-up workshop is planned to take place in November. A pilot study will follow shortly thereafter.

“The first workshop was very productive,” recalls Dr Fam. “There was a lot of interest in how we can work together in cardiovascular health and how we can move to a more sustainable system.”

Story by Kim Williams Photography by Anna Zhu

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