Views of pharmacist prescribers, doctors and patients on pharmacist prescribing implementation

Authors


Senior Lecturer, School of Pharmacy, The Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, Scotland AB10 1FR, UK. E-mail: d.stewart@rgu.ac.uk

Abstract

Aim The aim of this study was to explore the perspectives of pharmacist supplementary prescribers, their linked independent prescribers and patients, across a range of settings, in Scotland, towards pharmacist prescribing.

Method Telephone interviews were conducted with nine pharmacist prescribers, eight linked independent prescribers (doctors) and 18 patients. The setting was primary and secondary care settings in six NHS Health Board areas in Scotland.

Key findings In general, all stakeholders were supportive of pharmacists as supplementary prescribers, identifying benefits for patients and the wider health care team. Although patients raised no concerns, they had little idea of what to expect on their first visit, leading initially to feelings of apprehension. Pharmacists and doctors voiced concerns around a potential lack of continued funding, inadequate support networks and continuing professional development. Pharmacists were keen to undertake independent prescribing, although doctors were less supportive, citing issues around inadequate clinical examination skills.

Conclusions Pharmacists, doctors and patients were all supportive of developments in pharmacist supplementary prescribing, although doctors raised concerns around independent prescribing by pharmacists. The ability of pharmacists to demonstrate competence, to be aware of levels of competence and to identify learning needs requires further exploration.

Introduction

Pharmacists in the UK with at least 2 years’ post-registration professional experience can now qualify and register as independent prescribers, allowing them to practise as supplementary and independent prescribers. Supplementary prescribing, introduced in 2003, requires collaborative working with an independent prescriber (a doctor or dentist) and patient to prescribe any medicine(s) for any diagnosed condition(s), within the boundaries of a named patient's clinical management plan.1 Independent prescribing for pharmacists is a more recent development and permits the management of diagnosed and undiagnosed conditions, prescribing any licensed medicine (other than controlled drugs) within the pharmacist's competence, with no need for formal medical collaboration.2 The successful implementation of pharmacist independent prescribing services will be enhanced by rigorous evaluation of pharmacist supplementary prescribing in terms of structures, processes and outcomes.

The stated aims of pharmacist prescribing are to improve patient access to medicines, making the best use of pharmacists’ clinical skills.3,4 Supplementary prescribing has been undertaken by pharmacists in various settings across the UK since March 2004.5 Most of the published literature has reported pharmacists’ perspectives of supplementary prescribing training and/or initial practice.5–9

While acknowledging limitations of respondent bias and sample size, findings have been generally positive. Any negative views reported were around service implementation, particularly financial and organisational issues; some concerns about training were also identified. Similar findings were reported in a smaller study combining questionnaire and telephone interview methods.9 Lloyd and Hughes used a qualitative approach to extend the research perspective to medical mentors involved in training for pharmacist supplementary prescribing.10 General support for supplementary prescribing was reported, but doctors were less supportive of an independent prescribing role for pharmacists. Buckley et al.11 interviewed health-related stakeholders, finding broad support for non-medical prescribing but concern that pharmacists lacked in-depth knowledge of patient medical histories. Pharmacist prescribing is still only being practised by a minority of pharmacists working under different funding models depending on their home country or health-service setting. It is anticipated that, ultimately, in the community pharmacy setting in Scotland, core funding will be made available through the chronic medicines service component of the community pharmacy contract.

Only one published study has focused on the views of patients, all of whom were attending a single hypertension clinic; most patients viewed the standard of care as better than before.12 None of the research published to date has explored concurrently the views and experiences of all three partners of the supplementary prescribing model: patient, independent prescriber and supplementary prescriber. It is also fundamental to research different and diverse settings and therapeutic areas to fully inform practice developments. The aim of this study was to explore the perspectives of pharmacist supplementary prescribers, their linked independent prescribers and patients towards pharmacist prescribing across a range of settings in Scotland.

Methods

Design

A qualitative case-study approach, including interviews, video recording and a questionnaire, was utilised to generate data from different professional and patient groups in various settings. Only the findings from the interviews are reported here.

Sampling of case-study sites

Data collected from a Great Britain-wide survey of pharmacist supplementary prescribers5 were used along with Scottish prescribing data and information from the Chief Pharmacists/Directors of Pharmacy in each Health Board area in Scotland as a basis for purposive sampling to identify 10 case-study sites. We aimed to provide maximum variation in terms of therapeutic areas/patient groups, geographical regions and care settings and to include those with more prescribing experience. Inclusion criteria were that the pharmacist prescribers had a current case load of at least 20 patients, had more than 3 months’ prescribing experience and would be able to recruit one of their independent prescribers and up to three of their current patients for a telephone interview. No attempt was made to identify a statistically representative sample. Eighteen pharmacists were approached to generate the sample of 10.

Participants identified for telephone interview were sent an information letter and participant information sheet. Interviews were conducted by two researchers (JG and BA) and lasted 10–30 min. Topic areas for pharmacist and doctor interviews included perceived benefits and challenges of supplementary prescribing, perceived changes in pharmacist roles since becoming prescribers, relationships with the rest of the care team, support structures for prescribers, continuing professional development (CPD) and independent prescribing. These areas were based on published research of benefits and challenges of pharmacist supplementary prescribing.5,6 The topic guide for the patients focused on patient understanding of supplementary prescribing, their expectations of a pharmacist prescriber, issues of access to medicines, and satisfaction. The interview guides were reviewed by an expert panel for face and content validity and developed further through an iterative process as the interviews progressed and new themes or concepts emerged. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim.

Data management and analysis

Data management was supported by NVivo software. Data were analysed for recurring themes using the ‘framework’ approach.13 After familiarisation with the data by repeated reading of the transcripts (DS), emerging themes were identified and the data coded, supported by NVivo. Two researchers (BA and DS) independently verified the themes, with any disagreement being reviewed by other members of the research team.

Ethical approval

The research was approved by the NHS Multi-centre Research Ethics Committee for Scotland. Research and development approval was also obtained from each of the NHS areas involved. All participants provided written, informed consent.

Results

Case-study recruitment

Of the eighteen pharmacists originally approached eight felt unable to participate due to reasons that included workload or only recent delivery of a prescribing service. The 10 participating pharmacists were recruited from six NHS organisational areas in the north, west, south and east of Scotland, giving a spectrum of pharmacy settings and clinical areas. Case-study sites have been anonymised to protect the identity of the small number of pharmacists. The pharmacists (see Table 1 for further details) were mostly female (n = 8) with between four and 25 years’ experience as a pharmacist. Of those unable to participate, four were male and four female. One female pharmacist later withdrew for workload reasons prior to any data collection, giving a final sample size of nine.

Table 1. Settings and clinical areas of the participating prescribing pharmacists
PharmacistGeographical regionPrescribing settingClinical area(s)Number of patients interviewed
  1. *Pharmacist 8 was one of the first recruits but decided to withdraw from the research in the later stages. Hence the research provides case-study data on nine pharmacists.

11GP practiceRespiratory3
21GP practice/community pharmacyRespiratory3
31GP practiceCardiovascular1
42GP practiceCardiovascular3
53GP practice/community pharmacyRheumatology/pain3
64GP practiceCardiovascular/diabetes1
74GP practiceCardiovascular2
8*4GP practiceCardiovascular0
95Community pharmacyRespiratory2
106Hospital (secondary care)Oncology0

Eight out of nine doctors, having between four and 20 years of clinical experience, agreed to be interviewed. The remaining doctor, from a single-handed practice, expressed interest in the research but was busy with practice restructuring.

Eighteen patients covering most geographical regions and prescribing pharmacists agreed to be interviewed. The mean patient age was 64 years (range 28–85 years). Patients consulted the pharmacists at clinics for chronic diseases.

The major themes plus supporting quotes are presented below. Interviewee type, setting and management area are identified in parentheses below each quote.

Development of prescribing role

Pharmacists described some of the key motivating factors which led to them undertaking supplementary prescribing. For some, this was an opportunity to improve patient care, complementing the functions of other members of the health care team. ‘We have a visiting oncologist here who comes once a fortnight …. As I developed more expertise in the area it became quite apparent that having a pharmacist as a supplementary prescriber would be really useful in our situation.’ (Pharmacist 10, hospital, oncology)

Many others, in both primary and secondary care, described supplementary prescribing as a natural extension to their advisory role, almost legalising their current practice. ‘Within the [medical] practice we are almost doing a prescribing role anyway …. So you are kind of doing [prescribing] … going through the motions almost anyway so this was just a natural next step to do the qualification.’ (Pharmacist 4, GP practice, cardiovascular)

Despite pharmacist motivation to improve care, patients were somewhat confused of what to expect from their first visit to the pharmacist prescriber. Some were apprehensive but accepted that the pharmacist was a trained professional and that if they were unhappy they could see the doctor. Following the consultation they reflected positively on the treatment they had received. ‘Well that was the thing really I didn't know what to expect. I just had to trust the [medical] practice knew what they were doing and actually when I met him it was fine and that put my mind at ease.’ (Patient 1 (of pharmacist 9), community pharmacy, respiratory)

Patient benefits

Patient benefits of pharmacist supplementary prescribing were acknowledged by all. Pharmacists expressed a desire to provide good patient services and perceived that patients were given quicker access and longer appointments, in turn reducing doctor waiting times. ‘They were really happy that they have got someone who they can just walk in to and talk to instead of having to make appointments and things …. Oh definitely I think that's made a big difference to them.’ (Pharmacist 9, community pharmacy, respiratory)

These benefits were reiterated by the doctors who praised the improvement in patient care. Pharmacists were viewed as having expertise in all aspects of pharmacotherapy. ‘It can simplify the process in that the pharmacist often has more expertise and knowledge in actual drug interactions, side effects, contra-indications; so they can provide that information for the patient.’ (GP (of pharmacist 3), cardiovascular)

‘The main benefit for me is that it's good for the patients. Patients get a more detailed look at all their medication … pharmacists discuss the side effects of drugs better with patients. We should be able to as well but pharmacists have a better knowledge of drugs and this can only benefit the patient.’ (GP (of pharmacist 4), cardiovascular)

Patients also noted the benefits of consulting a pharmacist prescriber. They praised the quality and extent of discussion relating to their medicines. All were satisfied with the service and trusted the pharmacist. ‘I'm very happy with the pharmacist and how carefully he managed my condition and keeps an eye on me. I would say I get better care for my condition by the pharmacist when it comes to my prescriptions and reviewing my prescriptions.’ (Patient 2 (of pharmacist 9), community pharmacy, respiratory) ‘I have been on my medication for a long time now and sort of know what works with me. But I did get more information, I felt, about how each drug worked and understand a bit more of why some things work and some don't.’ (Patient 1 (of pharmacist 6), GP practice, cardiovascular/diabetes)

Health care team benefits

Pharmacists noted benefits of their enhanced job satisfaction, responsibility and autonomy. ‘I mean taking clinical responsibility rather than just putting referrals to doctors saying ‘could you change this?’ or ‘could you do that?’… you are actually able to do it yourself and carry it through and see the patient.’ (Pharmacist 1, GP practice, respiratory)

In addition, many felt more integrated into the health care team. ‘I think I work more closely with the GPs and nurses now that I am doing the prescribing than before just because you have to communicate more about what you are doing.’ (Pharmacist 1, GP practice, respiratory)

This aspect of enhanced teamwork was also noted by many doctors. In particular some felt that having a pharmacist prescriber allowed them more time to spend on patients with acute conditions. ‘From our point of view it means that we can free up doctor time to do the front-end stuff with initial diagnosis and then we can refer them on to clinics.’ (GP (of pharmacist 3), cardiovascular)

One doctor described a model of care where the pharmacist managed patients in the absence of any medical colleagues. ‘Well I think the main strength is that …is where the doctor in, for example, our outreach clinics can't always be there as I'm only there twice a week then in between times the pharmacy prescriber can prescribe drugs related to the side effects of radiotherapy.’ (Hospital consultant (of pharmacist 10), oncology)

Challenges for pharmacist supplementary prescribing

Several challenges were raised by all parties. Funding was a key area of discussion for pharmacists, and it was evident that there were different funding arrangements for supplementary prescribing services depending on the practice setting. One key issue was that most pharmacists felt a lack of any formal support networks and often relied informally on other trained colleagues for advice. Some sought help from line managers but felt that there was a need for a more formal support structure. Various solutions were offered including local, organised support, message boards, contact lists and a directory of clinical management plans. Some felt there were no problems at all. ‘There is not much support structures. I mean we have a lead pharmacist if we need support and I actually support some of the ones that are doing their prescribing just now.’ (Pharmacist 3, GP practice, cardiovascular)

A lack of appropriate CPD to meet pharmacist prescribers’ needs also emerged as a key theme. ‘There is nothing as far as I'm aware specific at the moment that I can sign up to … I'm not aware of where I can go to get free ‘up to date’ stuff.’ (Pharmacist 2, GP practice/community pharmacy, respiratory)

The importance of CPD, particularly with regard to changes in clinical pharmacology, was also noted by the doctors. ‘The challenge will be to keep up with which ones [drugs] work better for patients on chemotherapy and radiotherapy. With proper training and CPD this should be manageable and experience with working with patients will also help.’ (Hospital consultant (of pharmacist 10), oncology)

Other potential challenges for pharmacists described by the doctors included balancing patient demand while working within their limits of competence. ‘Patients can be very demanding and put pressure on us and other professionals to do more. So it's definitely a question of knowing your limitations and not letting patients dictate what they take and not take.’ (GP (of pharmacist 4), cardiovascular)

No major concerns were voiced by the patients. Some had slight reservations but once they had attended their initial consultation, they were reassured that the pharmacists were very capable. One patient felt that she also needed to see the doctor just in case things went wrong.

Independent prescribing

Pharmacists and doctors had strongly opposing views on pharmacist independent prescribing. Pharmacists were eager to undertake independent prescribing after further training. One felt that independent prescribing would be more beneficial within community pharmacy settings, allowing the delivery of a stand-alone service, as well as benefiting travel and family planning clinics. Independent prescribing was considered by all to be the obvious next stage in their development. ‘It'll be of great benefit and it will be easier for me to give out any prescription in the area that I'm competent in and confident.’ (Pharmacist 6, GP practice, cardiovascular/diabetes)

Overall pharmacists felt their doctors would support them if they intended to extend their role to independent prescribing. One pharmacist expressed reservations about prescribing outwith her areas of competence. ‘No, well, I've chatted to a few of them and they are very enthusiastic for me to do the independent prescribing. There are certain areas they actually wouldn't want me to do … outwith my competence … but no, for the areas which I am doing the cardiac areas and some asthma things like that they were more than happy.’ (Pharmacist 3, GP practice, cardiovascular)

Issues relating to competence were voiced by all pharmacists. ‘You sometimes don't realise what you don't know and you can genuinely think that you are doing something that is OK but just because your knowledge isn't as good as it should be, you can make maybe an error that way and that is my main concern.’ (Pharmacist 1, GP practice, respiratory)

Despite the perceived support from their independent prescribers, all doctors expressed concern about the implementation of independent prescribing by pharmacists. The major area of concern related to pharmacists’ competence in diagnosis. ‘Well my concerns with independent prescribing is that obviously you need to be in a position to make a diagnosis – an appropriate diagnosis – and not to miss the problems that may be going on which takes all of us a long period of time to gain the kind of knowledge and then the experience.’ (GP (of pharmacist 5), GP practice/community pharmacy, rheumatology/pain)

One, however, did indicate support for a wider role in secondary care. ‘No I think most doctors would welcome this initiative and realise that this additional service can provide more help for them.’ (Hospital consultant (of pharmacist 10), oncology)

Discussion

This study has considered the views of pharmacists, doctors and patients on the implementation of pharmacy prescribing. All were supportive of pharmacists as supplementary prescribers, identifying benefits for patients and the wider health care team. Although patients raised no concerns, they had little idea of what to expect on their first visit leading initially to feelings of apprehension. Pharmacists and doctors voiced concerns around a potential lack of funding, support networks and CPD. Pharmacists were keen to undertake independent prescribing, although doctors were less supportive, citing issues around pharmacists’ inadequate clinical examination skills. Although this study was carried out in the UK, the findings may also be relevant to pharmacists, doctors, patients and policy makers on a global level, especially when other countries such as Australia, The Netherlands and USA are also developing models for expanding the roles of non-medical professionals such as nurses and pharmacists in medication management.14

To our knowledge this is the first study conducted at a national level which has taken this approach. Purposive sampling resulted in a range of pharmacists, doctors and patients across Scotland. Nevertheless, our study had some limitations. The sampling strategy focused on experienced pharmacist prescribers who in turn recruited the independent prescribers and patients, introducing selection bias. Some pharmacists would have recruited their designated medical practitioner (mentor) during their prescribing training, introducing a potential bias in their views expressed. Some pharmacists approached were unable to participate despite expressing initial interest and only one hospital pharmacist was recruited. It is likely that those who agreed were highly motivated, interested in pharmacist prescribing, confident about their prescribing skills, had experience in pharmacist prescribing and had already met and overcome many challenges. Their views may not be representative of pharmacist prescribers in general. However, these are the individuals who are likely to lead developments and hence their inclusion is justified and can provide valuable information to the others. Due to the inclusion criteria, purposive sampling and small sample size it is possible that not all relevant themes emerged from the interviews so saturation of themes may not have been achieved. Telephone interviewing was used on the basis of logistics (mainly geography) and convenience for participants (especially doctors). However, this is not unusual as comprehensive phone interviews are increasingly used in multi-stage research and results have been found to be as reliable and as representative as face-to-face interviews.15–17

Pharmacist prescribing is only evolving and hence some of the challenges are unsurprising. Issues around funding, support and CPD have been noted by others.6,10 Focus on funding is essential to any contractual discussions for community pharmacy18 and for strategic planning within the managed service spanning general practice and hospital. Similar issues of organisations and infrastructure have also been noted in qualitative and quantitative research into pharmacist and nurse prescribing.19–21 Given the steady increase in non-medical prescribers other than pharmacists, and existing long-held concerns about the quality of medical prescribing, interprofessional CPD might be a good opportunity to support consistent, efficient and effective prescribing practices across all proponents. The doctor–patient relationship has been shown to be the key to positive prescribing and thus optimal health outcomes.22 In our study, patients were rather anxious about their first consultation but rapidly gained confidence thereafter. These changes to patient perceptions are not unexpected, and are likely to alter further with time and experience. Although teamwork is fundamental to supplementary prescribing, there is very little knowledge of how health care teams work in practice.23 Our data would suggest that the prescribing pharmacist has made a positive contribution to the team in terms of patient care and role clarity.

The supplementary pharmacist prescribers were keen to undertake the independent prescribing conversion course. They were clearly aware of the need to practice within defined areas of competence. However, the doctors had reservations, mostly noting issues around clinical examination skills. Such issues have also been noted by others3,10 and may not be resolved until robust, evidence-based data on safe practice are available. There may also be a need to inform the medical professionals of the scope of independent prescribing as some respondents incorrectly assumed this to be associated with clinical diagnosis on every occasion.

There are many parallels between our findings and those of an overview of systematic reviews of dissemination and implementation of interventions.24 Many elements of professional change observed in our study can be compared to theoretical models of change. The social condition model stresses the importance of environment (practice setting for prescribing), beliefs, attitudes and intentions of those involved (pharmacist, doctors and patients) as central influences in successful models of change. The staged change of behaviour suggests stages of precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action and maintenance.25 The pharmacists and independent prescribers in our study are likely to be in the more advanced stages, which may not necessarily be generalised to all pharmacist prescribers and their linked independent prescribers. Rogers has classified individuals into innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority and laggards depending upon how quickly they change behaviour.26 In terms of the pharmacists, it is likely that this research has captured either the innovators or early adopters. This is an important point with clear implications for wide-scale service developments. It is likely that the doctors were of similar classification and that the ‘best’ patients were selected for interview.

This research is part of a larger study providing detailed contextual analysis of pharmacist supplementary prescribing in Scotland in terms of structures and processes. There remains an urgent need to provide evidence of patient outcomes (economic, clinical and humanistic) of pharmacist prescribing in large numbers of patients. The translation from models of supplementary to independent prescribing by pharmacists should also be researched.

Conclusions

All partners in the supplementary prescribing model (supplementary prescribers, independent prescribers and patients) were supportive of pharmacist supplementary prescribing developments, particularly in relation to the impact on patient care. Concerns around pharmacist independent prescribing and lack of skills in diagnosis were raised by the doctors.

Acknowledgements

We thank Breda Anthony for completing and analysing the interviews and Amber Bowbyes for excellent administrative support in transcribing the interviews. We also acknowledge the support given by the Chief Pharmacists/Directors of Pharmacy in each of the Health Board areas studied. Most importantly we thank the pharmacist supplementary prescribers, their independent prescribers and patients for agreeing to participate.

Ancillary