The Role of Pharmacists in the Healthcare Industry

Pharmacists play a central role in the healthcare industry, as Mr. Willem Posthoorn experiences on a daily basis. He is an independent, freelance pharmacist and healthcare professional, contracting via his company Post-Care. To expand our views on this topic, we reached out to him to speak about the role of pharmacists in the healthcare sector in general, Willem’s approach to his profession, and discuss recent developments and events, such as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Willem grew up in a highly educated family in the north of The Netherlands. His mother is a doctor who specializes in intellectual disabilities and currently leads a research department. Willem’s father was a mathematics teacher before retiring. After high school, Willem decided to study pharmacy. This choice wasn’t easy given his broader interest in the sciences. Decisive factors were the broad orientation of the study and career opportunities.

After graduating, Willem faced a wide array of options as a healthcare professional. Unfortunately, the labor market for a budding healthcare professional demands specialization, you’re either this or that. He challenges this situation and holds that a healthcare professional can be good at multiple disciplines. “You don’t have to limit yourself; you can be both this and that.” Willem believes that it is our responsibility to make a conscious effort to get the most out of our lives. Whatever goals we set for ourselves, we should not let tacit assumptions and limitations stop us from being who we want to be. This also applies to our professional lives, we can grow in many areas and directions. Willem thinks that the emphasis on specialization is changing and that in many professions, including the healthcare industry, a broader approach to work and professionalism is being embraced. This has prompted him to be an independent healthcare professional and contractor. A great advantage of this independence is the increased flexibility and openness for new opportunities, wherever they may come. You can also learn a lot, working together in different teams. Willem is happy to see that a growing number of ambitious companies is open to working with independent professionals like him. 

We asked Willem to explain what the job of a freelance healthcare professional and pharmacist entails, and here is what he had to say:

“Many people, when they think of a pharmacist, will typically think of a local community pharmacist who owns or works at the same pharmacy for a long time, maybe years or even decades. There are, in fact, many different ways one can practice the pharmacy profession, and many positions where a pharmacist can add value. I prefer to think of myself as a freelance healthcare professional who is qualified as a pharmacist. Freelance means I’m an interim professional (a professional that accepts interim assignments) and that I’m an independent contractor, mostly – but far from exclusively – as a pharmacist.”

Pharmacists traditionally have a crucial role in the healthcare industry due to the high demand for manufacturing medicine and providing accurate prescriptions to patients. In carrying out their jobs, pharmacists must be committed to the well-being of the patient; they must be reliable, diligent, and preserve professional autonomy. But, he likes to see pharmacists think beyond their traditional role. A pharmacist should ask questions like:

How can I add value to my client’s experience and quality of life?

How I can I improve my personal and professional performance?

What is most important in my mission as a pharmacist?”

Taking the recent year as an example, Willem acquired an interim assignment as a head pharmacist in a community pharmacy the first few months of 2020. He has also recently obtained professional qualifications for being an assessor of quality management systems for a large certification body and has started conducting audits. Moreover, he worked as a consultant for a project about website analytics data to finish an educational program in data science. Willem chose this educational program in order to keep up with the rapid developments in the field of data science. This allows Willem to combine his domain knowledge of pharmacy and healthcare with knowledge of software systems and the data generated by and kept in these software systems. Willem is still ready and energized to spread his knowledge and expertise.

We also asked Willem about his vision on the role of pharmacists during and after the COVID-19 pandemic, since pharmacists across the globe have been professionally affected by the outbreak of COVID-19. First, it’s important to note that pharmacies (community as well as in hospitals) stayed open for clients anywhere, still providing accessible services during the lockdowns. In The Netherlands, for instance, many people made sure to get their repeat medication in the early period of the outbreak. However, this initial increase in demand was followed by a decline in outpatient clinic visits and doctors’ offices mostly only saw patients that couldn’t be helped on the phone. This then led to a temporary decline in the number of prescriptions in many community pharmacies. More recently, the demand for pharmaceutical care has stabilized.

Considering the role of pharmacists after the COVID-19 pandemic, Willem points out that it’s still hard to tell when we can speak of a post COVID-19 period, as the mitigated spread of the virus worldwide will probably not stop for a couple of years. We can just hope that there will be good vaccines available in a relatively short period. Fortunately, there are some positive developments in this regard.

Willem explains that pharmacists play an important role in developing, distributing, and delivering vaccines and medicines. This also applies to those that may be used in prevention and treatment of COVID-19. The threat of increasing medication unavailability and shortages has been looming, because of

  • the impairment of production and distribution facilities as a consequence of the COVID-19 measures and
  • the additional demand for medication that could play a role in preventing and/or treating patients with COVID-19. Pharmacists have an important role in distributing and allocating the available medication.

Although several measures have already been taken, some areas already experience second waves and new or more lockdown measures could be imminent.

Willem thinks pharmacists worldwide have been mostly proactive and resourceful in finding ways of dealing with the extra safety measures. This is apparent, for instance, in the delivery of medication to patients at home, in implementing measures to stop the virus spread, and developing guidelines for COVID-19 in cooperation with other healthcare professionals. Pharmacists have also been exemplary in the protection of their personnel and informing patients in alternative ways, for instance via e-consults or by giving instructions with social distancing measures and/or Plexiglass protection.

When asked if he thinks pharmacists’ role will become either more or less important for patients in the future, Willem shared this opinion:

Being a pharmacist myself, I will of course advocate the former, but I have no crystal ball. Threats to that role could be, for instance, if the legal restrictions for producing and supplying medication for non-pharmacists were mitigated,and technology if (part of) the activities we employ would be automated. What we have seen in the past decades is that besides dispensing medications and ensuring patient safety, today’s pharmacists have a larger role as medical counselors and educators. Technology has also contributed to that role because treatment and prevention options have grown. Patients are more actively involved, getting more assertive with their treatments and have a bigger say in their treatment options. There’s still a lot of impending developments to public health and I think pharmacists can have an important role in managing and preventing them.”

Pharmacists are in the unique position to identify potential drug interactions early on and to educate patients on the proper use of medication. In the past, these efforts have had a significant impact on patient satisfaction and quality of care and can help contain healthcare costs. One thing is certain, and that is that in a changing healthcare environment, pharmacists’ roles will continue to evolve, so pharmacists will need to keep embracing innovative solutions that improve health and reduce costs. 

If you’d like to contact Willem, you can do so via his LinkedIn profile.

Photo taken by Rob Kleinjans

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