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The Future: Bespoke Health Services
Elise Apolloni
Bespoke health services are the future of community pharmacy. In 2015, our pharmacy underwent an enormous renovation to encompass medical consultation rooms and more spaces to engage with our patients. With more engagement comes more opportunity to use a pharmacist’s full skillset. Early on we identified mental health as a ‘’gap’’ area and I am delighted to share our journey of developing this critical bespoke service at Capital Chemist Wanniassa.

Chaos came to our pharmacy in 2015. It began with the renovation but quickly changed to a very difficult situation.

In April, we lost our team member, pharmacy assistant and friend to suicide. She was 16 years old. There are many emotions experienced commonly during a process of grief and loss, however one that dominated our team was a sense of determination. We were resolved to prevent this pain for another community, family or workplace, and determined to be better at using our primary healthcare role to assist those experiencing or living with mental illness.

Making mental health a priority

Mental illness is an enormous health problem in Australia. The National Health and Wellbeing Survey is conducted every decade, and it was noted in 2007 that adult Australians had a 50% chance of developing a mental illness at some point across their lifespan, and a 20% chance of developing a mental illness in any one year.1 While we knew mental illness had affected our team, we wanted to know if it was also an important issue to address in our community - and local population health data showed that it was.

Which health problems exist in my community?

Bespoke health services are most valuable when they are designed with the community in mind. There is no point in designing a health service that does not consider the demographics and needs of your patients. We used health data from our existing Medicare Local and found, as we expected, high psychological distress was a problem in our region of Canberra.

Planning and implementing mental health services

Developing an understanding and passion for a health condition is essential for team morale and uptake of a bespoke health service. Our team became a Gold Skilled Mental Health First Aid Workplace, meaning most team members had some crisis management training. A few of our pharmacists did postgraduate study in mental health and counselling, training in motivational interviewing and volunteered as Telephone Crisis Supporters at Lifeline Canberra and the Pharmacists’ Support Service. This gave us the understanding and insight to design a service for our community.

Pharmafriend is the name of our mental health service, and was developed by one of our passionate pharmacists for our patients. The program is tailored to the patient and is offered as part of the dispensing process of a medicine for mental illness, and as a stand-alone program. Pharmafriend provides information about holistic mental health management, is conducted in the privacy of our consultation rooms, and result in our pharmacists regularly following up with the patient to see how they are coping.

Great bespoke services have impact

Our patients have embraced the Pharmafriend program. They like to be informed, educated and motivated to take control of their health. We have helped many patients connect with other support services, assisted them through their mental illness and crisis, and asked tough questions about suicide at times when we are worried about the welfare of a patient. To have impact, our pharmacy hosts at least two health promotions every month and often more! We fundraise for associated charities at the same time. For example, on RU OK? Day, we would raise awareness of mental health and suicide while raising money for the charity, and provide information and start conversations with our patients in the pharmacy. Health awareness campaigns in our pharmacy often extend beyond the physical walls of our pharmacy and into the virtual world, where we share similar information on our social media pages. This engages our patients and community in meaningful conversations about health that they may not otherwise have in their everyday lives. This information may not be relevant to them today but at some time down the track it may assist their health or someone else’s health that they know.

Elise’s top tips for the BEST bespoke services

• Know your people – which conditions are prevalent in your area? Which ‘gaps’ in healthcare exist? How can your pharmacy help?

• Know your limits – how much of a health service can be performed by your team? Do you need to upskill/complete further study?

• Tell the world – let your community know what you offer in your pharmacy

• Adapt and evolve – constantly review your service and how it can be done better, and move it forward over time if the opportunity arises. This might mean collaborating with other health professionals, sharing your service more widely than just your pharmacy or using part of this service to develop another bespoke offering.

References: 1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, National Survey of Health and wellbeing. Available at[email protected]/DetailsPage/4326.02007?OpenDocument accessed 12/10/17