Through crisis comes strength and reform


The COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge us all every day. It challenges us to adjust to new ways of living. It challenges us to be resilient and stay positive. And it challenges us to support our patients in different ways.

Crisis is often a catalyst for change. Many reforms our health system has long been working towards have been rapidly accelerated during this pandemic.

As physical distancing and infection control imperatives have made ‘business as usual’ impossible, governments and health professionals have worked together with a sense of urgency to change the way health care is provided:

  • Electronic prescriptions have been ‘coming soon’ in Australia for over a decade. The rate-limiting steps had previously been the integration of the digital transfer of prescriptions into regulation (legal) and clinical software (workflow). The pandemic has seen a wave of regulatory changes and government support to software vendors fast-track electronic prescriptions into prescribing and dispensing software within an 8-week period.
  • Changes to medicine review services recognise that pharmacist medicine management expertise is essential to safeguarding medicine use, not a ‘nice-to-have’. Telehealth interview format is a sensible approach to ensure HMRs can continue when face-to-face interviews are impossible. Follow-up visits for RMMRs and HMRs recognise some medicine safety problems take multiple interventions to resolve.
  • Continued dispensing has been available for HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (statins) and oral contraception since the start of 5CPA nearly 10 years ago. Significant work has occurred since to better support continued dispensing for a broader range of medicines.
  • Additional regulatory requirements for evidence of respiratory conditions for Schedule 3 supply of salbutamol have uncovered a cohort of people with very poorly managed respiratory conditions who have been connected to appropriate management.

Beyond pharmacy, digital health tools will potentially reach critical mass and become normal practice due to the disruption of the pandemic, including My Health Record and telehealth consultations for allied health services.

A crisis brings into sharp focus our fundamental role. Pharmacists are medicine experts. Our role overseeing the safe and effective prescribing, supply and administration of medicines in all clinical practice settings is demonstrated now more than ever.

I am so proud of how you have responded to the seismic change to practice caused by this pandemic. It has a legacy that is hard to predict – but we do know many of the reforms which have been badly needed to support pharmacists in protecting medicine safety and public health will be catalysed and occur over a matter of months, rather than a matter of years/decades.

It is my hope this will be one positive to come out of what will be one of the most challenging years each of us will experience in our lives.

Associate Professor Chris Freeman FPS, BPharm, GDipClinPharm, PhD, AACPA, AdvPracPharm, BCACP, MAICD