Sunday March 13, 2011
Dispensing the right dose
By KANG SOON CHEN
The job of a pharmacist is becoming increasingly important with greater emphasis placed on healthcare.
AN INHALER is a lifesaver for asthma patients, but if not administered properly, the medical device will not be able to release the full amount of drugs into the airways.
While the services of a doctor or a nurse may come in handy during a situation like this, it is the expertise and advice of a pharmacist that one needs when confronted with medical prescriptions, their dosage, intake and administration.
“Pharmacists play an important role in educating and assisting patients who are ignorant or unsure of instructions and literature regarding the medicines they take, including the handling of new gadgets like the compact blood pressure monitor and test kits to check on a patient’s blood sugar and urine,” says Mahsa University College (Mahsa) Pharmacy Faculty dean Assoc Prof Dr Ahmad Mahmud.
With the current shortage of pharmacists, the country needs 31,000 pharmacists by 2020 to reach the World Health Organisation’s pharmacist-to-population ratio of 1:2000 by that year. It is with this in mind that the government decided not only to expand clinical pharmacy services in public hospitals, but to implement the three-year compulsory service which requires all fresh pharmacy graduates to serve at government hospitals or clinics. It is only after completing the three-year term that they are allowed to register with the Pharmacy Board of Malaysia.
“There is no doubt that the quality of healthcare will improve tremendously with the increased number of pharmacists serving in the hospital,” says Dr Ahmad.
He commends the effort taken by the government to reduce waiting time at pharmacies in government hospitals besides new initiatives like the drive-through pharmacies at some government hospitals and the mail delivery service of medicine, introduced only recently.
The changing roles of pharmacists have evolved over time from production and dispensing of medication to providing counselling services to patients, the latter of which is crucial in the follow-up treatment for patients suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes.
“Working hand-in-hand with the doctor, the pharmacists ensures that the correct dosage is prescribed for medication to take effect in patients,” says Dr Ahmad.
He adds that pharmacists shoulder the responsibility of making sure that patients follow through with the medication.
In several retail pharmacy outlets, pharmacists also help to monitor the blood glucose level of diabetic patients.
“Pharmacists will advise doctors to change the drugs or dosage if the medication does not work,” says Dr Ahmad.
On the other hand, it is not uncommon for one to visit the neighbourhood pharmacy when they have symptoms of a common cold and cough.
Dr Ahmad confirms that pharmacists have the dispensing rights over Group C drugs which includes medication for cough and cold, antihistamines, and all lotions and ointments. Prescription items such as antibiotics are under the Group B category.
Nevertheless, he points out that pharmacists are to refer the customers to doctors if their symptoms persist.
Being in the line for over 30 years, Dr Ahmad shares that his career as pharmacist has been a rewarding one.
“A good pharmacist is one who helps to effectively communicate and allay fears and concerns regarding all kinds of drugs and their side effects.
Precision is an important aspect of the job for they must be certain about dosage and the drugs they dispense.
“This is not all — a kind, caring and even a cheerful disposition will help especially since they are dealing with people who have medical problems.”
He adds that the pharmacy programme at Mahsa has a module on communication skills and its campus even has a simulated pharmacy to allow students to experience real-time mock patient interactions.
The university college is linking up with Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom to offer the 2+2 Master of Pharmacy programme while its homegrown Bachelor of Pharmacy programme will be launched this September.
Since it is a field with eight different pathways, Dr Ahmad jokes that pharmacy graduates will not have to worry about unemployment.
He shares that many pharmacists prefer to remain in the public service because the salaries are now more attractive.
“However, those who are not interested in clinical pharmacy can venture into retail pharmacy, manufacturing, quality control, regulatory pharmacy, marketing, academia and research, among many other things,” he adds.
“Pharmacy may be the second option for students who cannot pursue Medicine or Dentistry, but it is still as demanding and stressful,” says Dr Ahmad.
Students interested in pursuing pharmacy need to have a strong background in Biology, Chemistry and Mathematics. Meanwhile, the notion that pharmacists are medical personnel working behind the scenes no longer holds water.
Mahsa managing director Dr Shahril Mohamed Haniffa stresses that pharmacists are actually at the forefront of healthcare.
“Pharmacists are involved in the discovery of new drugs for various types of diseases, not dismissing the fact that the pharmaceutical industry is also a multi-million dollar business,” he says.
Dr Ahmad agrees and adds that the sub-specialties introduced in pharmacy such as geriatric pharmacy, paediatric pharmacy and oncology pharmacy are taking clinical pharmacy to a higher notch.
He says that sub-specialising in pharmacy is slowly taking root in local hospitals. “By sub-specialising in the niche areas, pharmacists are able to provide better consultation and services in healthcare,” adds Dr Shahril.