Community pharmacists on the frontline of health care

Gilles Bonnefond has worked as a pharmacist in Montélimar, France for more than 25 years, and is witness to the evolution of the role of community pharmacists from dispensers of medicines to primary health care professionals. On World Pharmacists’ Day, Gilles’s story illustrates the frontline role that community pharmacists are increasingly playing in delivering health care.

“In the past, the main role of the pharmacist was to supply medicines. Now, we ensure access to medicines, provide advice and follow patients during their therapy,” says Gilles. “For many, pharmacies are often an entry point to the health system. People can drop in without an appointment and we are consulted on a variety of things – from a small cut, to advice for someone who has had a fall, or for an elderly person who is finding it difficult to follow their treatment. Upon request, we can provide adult vaccinations, check people for strep throat and monitor blood pressure,” he continues.

Safe and effective medicines for all

When dispensing medicines, Gilles and his team of pharmacists and assistants often refer to the “Dossier pharmaceutique” – an electronic system for pharmacists that provides information on a patient’s medication history. Studies show that these records have helped cut down prescription errors and adverse drug reactions.

Pharmacists can also contribute to combatting antimicrobial resistance. Antibiotics are provided only on prescription at Gilles’ pharmacy and he and his team urge patients to complete prescribed courses of antibiotics as recommended by health-care professionals.

Regulations for better access

France is one of the countries in the WHO European Region with the strictest level of pharmacy regulation. Pharmacies can only be owned by pharmacists, and licenses to operate a new community pharmacy are granted only if they meet criteria related to geographic distribution of existing pharmacies and the number of inhabitants they serve. The 13 pharmacies in Montélimar, for instance, serve a population of 2500 each.

Such regulation has helped even out the distribution of pharmacies in the country, and thereby improved access to medicines.

WHO report to support policy-makers

The legal and regulatory framework for community pharmacies in the European Region varies greatly across countries. A recent WHO report provides policy-makers with an overview of the diversity of frameworks and strategies employed in the Region to improve access to medicines and pharmaceutical expertise. It also provides an insight into the pharmaceutical activities and services available in community pharmacies in countries of the Region.