One old maxim of primary care is: “If it’s not documented, it didn’t happen”. It’s an arresting phrase; one that gets to the heart of the challenges and intricacies involved in modern healthcare. Primary care is, of course, an incredibly complex undertaking, with high stakes for all involved. Therefore, there has always been a need for meticulous organisation and record-keeping in this field – both to achieve the best outcomes for patients, and also to shield primary care professionals from legal liability. In the event that something goes wrong, clear documentation can establish that a nurse, doctor, or GP acted in good faith and in line with best practice.
Naturally, sophisticated IT systems have been developed to service this need for documentation in primary care. Gone are the days of stuffed manila folders of medical records. Labour-saving innovations have made the documentation process quick and easy, freeing up time for primary care professionals to focus on their patients.
However, this is not the case for many pharmacies. Community pharmacies often lack the capabilities and resources to keep thorough patient records and documentation. Their information systems are often ramshackle and antiquated. Many still run on paper, making rote administrative tasks like payroll and prescriptions arduous and time-consuming. Our community pharmacies are being quickly left behind: it’s time they digitised, and fast.
The challenge of ‘pharmacy first’
With the Government’s new policy of ‘pharmacy first’ set to be rolled out later this year, pharmacies will begin to take on a number of primary care functions that have until now been the remit of GPs and nurses. Under the new policy, patients suffering from various lesser ailments – such as sore throats and shingles – will be directed to their local pharmacy in the first instance. Pharmacies will also be given some powers to supply prescription medicines.
The approach is designed to take some of the pressure off overburdened hospitals and GPs, making a substantial dent in the swollen NHS backlog. The policy of ‘pharmacy first’ is part of the solution to this problem – but it, too, comes with potential hazards for UK healthcare.
As it stands, pharmacies are simply not prepared to take on additional responsibilities. Within the sector, there are serious concerns that community pharmacists are overworked already. With these responsibilities comes increased scrutiny, including the need for scrupulous documentation. But as it stands, without onboarding tools that will increase efficiency, many pharmacies will be incapable of taking on an operational, documentation, and administrative task of this size.
A perfect storm
The inability of community pharmacies to maintain a digital record-keeping system required for primary care will have serious consequences.
Medical error and accusations of malpractice are, unfortunately, part and parcel of healthcare. A lack of documentation can cause patients to be given inappropriate care, contributing to poor patient outcomes.
It’s not just patients that stand to be impacted by this. Without a record of all primary care functions carried out, community pharmacies will be left with little protection against legal liability. No matter how diligent and dedicated they are to their new primary care tasks, it will be nigh on impossible for them to prove that they have acted according to best practice.
The average size of a medical malpractice lawsuit settlement is around £50,000. Community pharmacies can ill-afford this kind of legal exposure. Since 2016, one in eight high-street pharmacies have folded, and, in an age of rising prices, many more may soon follow. Not even the bigger pharmacy groups are immune. Lloyds Pharmacy, which operates 1,300 high street locations, warned earlier this year that it may have to sell off its network.
A wave of successful malpractice lawsuits arising out of insufficient documentation have the potential to destroy many of Britain’s pharmacies. This would, needless to say, have grave consequences for communities, and for UK healthcare provision as a whole.
A digital upgrade
If community pharmacies are to take on the primary care functions outlined in ‘pharmacy first’, then there is an urgent need for standardised documentation systems to be adopted across the board.
The best way to do this is through a technological upgrade, one that can make the documentation process quick and seamless, and that can be onboarded quickly and cheaply. Software such as a mobile application allows pharmacists to quickly fill out pro forma documentation to record primary care procedures, which can then be digitally stored and easily accessed.
In this way, community pharmacies can save time and energy on administrative tasks, and shield themselves from legal exposure. Without the urgent adoption and utilisation of digital tools, many of Britain’s 11,700 community pharmacies will prove unable to rise to the challenge of ‘pharmacy first’. The sector has an opportunity to bring its systems in line with the rest of the NHS, ultimately helping to provide better end-to-end care for patients.
By Santosh Sahu, Founder & CEO of Charac
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