Primary care pharmacists may reduce GP workload and emergency department attendance, a new study has found.
Researchers at Imperial College London conducted an analysis of 28 research studies which considered the outcomes on healthcare from the integration of pharmacists in primary care.
Results from the analysis showed integrating pharmacists in primary care saves GP time from a reduction in GP appointments and it may also reduce A&E attendance.
The study highlighted the role pharmacists can provide, such as managing smoking cessation and weight management. Within primary care, pharmacists would be able to manage repeat prescriptions, improve prescribing safety, and treat minor illnesses.
Of the 28 studies included in the analysis – which collated data from the US, UK, Canada, Spain, Brazil, Sweden, and Singapore – 10 looked at the impact of pharmacists in general practice on GP visit rates. Four studies found an increase in primary care usage as a result, and one study reported a four-fold increase in pharmacy appointments scheduled.
However, the research showed evidence of saving costs in the overall health system and the cost of medication.
Additionally, 12 studies assessed the impact on the emergency department and hospitalisation. Although none of the studies provided definitive impact in the length of a hospital stay, the integration of pharmacists in primary care can reduce attendance at accident and emergency departments.
The study said: ‘The potential for pharmacists to reduce the number of GP appointments has important implications at a time of unprecedented demand on the GP workforce in many countries.’
It later added: ‘The increased overall primary healthcare use found in some studies included in this review may suggest an increased ability of patients to access primary care through pharmacist integration.’
More research needed
Dr Benedict Hayhoe, clinical lecturer in primary care at Imperial College London said: ‘Evidence that pharmacists integrated in GP practices can reduce GP workload pressure whilst improving patients’ access to primary care and potentially reducing use of costly urgent services is extremely positive. More research is needed, but this study provides further support for ongoing funding of pharmacists in this setting.’
It follows reports that same-day pharmacy consultations could help tackle GP pressures, according to the RCGP.
However, a study earlier this year found that some GPs ignore pharmacist advice because it is ‘unlikely’ to benefit patients.