23 September 2009

Is this the right pharmacy for you?

So what are the things you should be looking at when you choose your pharmacy?

Choosing the right pharmacy can be just as important as choosing the right doctor. So what are the things you should be looking for when making this decision?

Expert pharmacist. This is the most important thing. A pharmacy which has all the frills, but which doesn't have a pharmacist who can tell you which medications will make you drowsy or which generic you can substitute for an expensive prescription, isn't worth supporting. Your pharmacist should be able to tell you what to do about your child's skin rash or diarrhoea.

Close to home. Get a pharmacy that is close to home. This is convenient if you run out of prescription medication on the weekend or someone has an inexplicable rash on a Sunday morning. The last thing you want to do then is to travel 15km to the pharmacy that's close to work.

Price war. Pharmacies can differ as much as 50% on the prices of certain products. Go to three or four pharmacies and compare prices on three standard products before you make your final decision. If your pharmacy is a rip-off, they're going to exhaust your medical aid benefits a lot more quickly.

Delivery rate. This is so handy if you're home alone and ill. Or you just don't have the time to stop and get those antibiotics before your in-laws arrive for the summer holidays. Remember if the deliveryman is coming anyway, he can also bring you a tube of toothpaste, vitamins or a bottle of shampoo – or whatever you may need. Many a crisis has been averted by one phone call to the pharmacy.

Cash or account? Having too many accounts can be a problem. They do lead to temptation. But a pharmacy account can be a real lifesaver three days before payday, when you get a migraine or develop a bladder infection. Just make a point of settling it in full when you do get paid, otherwise a pharmacy account can accumulate a staggering balance quite quickly.

Good admin. Does your pharmacist know who you are? Do you sometimes get billed for the wrong things or have they ever misplaced or lost one of your prescriptions? Shoddy admin on the pharmacy's part could land you in a medical aid admin nightmare. Choose a pharmacy whose admin is efficient and dependable. Remember, if you are in a hurry, to phone in your prescriptions before you fetch them. In this way they can be processed without you having to stand and wait at the counter.

Linked to medical aid. This makes life so much easier. If your prescription medication accounts can be submitted directly to medical aid, you don't have to submit them yourself or scrounge around for bits and pieces of paper and receipts. If your pharmacy doesn't have this facility, maybe you should start thinking of moving on. Check the levy you are being charged. These can vary quite a bit from pharmacy to pharmacy.

Good variety. Does this pharmacy stock a good variety of medication? Do they also have a natural medicine section? Will they order something for you that they don't currently stock? Are they a one-stop shop for a quick birthday gift, hair dye, painkillers, sunglasses and contraceptives?

Business hours. You work long hours and you want a pharmacy that will be open after your working hours. Preferably, there must be a pharmacist who can give you something for your migraine on Sunday morning. Or for the spider bite at on a Wednesday evening. Diseases or injuries do not keep regular working hours. And another point – try and avoid the pharmacist in the morning early or between 5 and 6pm. These are rush hour times and you could wait a long time.

Additional services. What additional services does your pharmacy offer? Can you have your blood pressure checked? Is there a nursing sister on duty some mornings of the week? Make use of these services, as they can save you doctor's visits.

Relationship with pharmacist important to most people
In a recent survey of consumers conducted in independent pharmacies across the Western Cape, 83% of respondents indicated that in selecting a pharmacy their relationship with their local pharmacist was the most important factor, with price coming in as the least important at only 27%.

“The survey indicates that the role of the community pharmacist as a healthcare provider remains as critical today as it was in our parents’ generation,” says Drew Horner, chairman of United South African Pharmacies.

The survey, which was undertaken in order for independent pharmacists to understand their consumers and to enhance service, found that the second most important factor in selecting a pharmacy was convenience (79% of consumers rated convenience as a determining factor in their choice of pharmacy).

Echoing this, the research revealed that 88% of people surveyed will not travel further than five kilometres from home to a pharmacy, even if they could get a better price on their medication at another pharmacy.

“Stopping off at your local tried and trusted pharmacy seems to beat running into a mall in terms of convenience. This makes complete sense, as our research shows that 61% of consumers tend to go to the pharmacy in the afternoon before 6pm and 57% preferred to go first thing in the morning”, says Horner.

An overwhelming majority of respondents indicated that they have been making use of the same community pharmacy for between five and ten years.

In addition to medication, a big priority for consumers is health supplements. 52 % of consumers indicating that, in addition to over the counter medication and filling a script, they purchased health supplements in their pharmacy.

”Most consumers are seeking a safe, professional and convenient experience. One can only have that experience if you have personal relationship with a knowledgeable and respected community pharmacist as it engenders feelings of trust and involvement in their health and general wellness.”

"It is in the adherence to prescription regimens and safety in combining medications, that relationship plays a critical role," explains Horner.

"Pharmacists must take great pains to foster this close patient–pharmacist relationship. It is just part of the personal service offered by community pharmacists that sets us apart from our peers in rather more anonymous conditions of the large chain or corporate pharmacies."

Reference: United South African Pharmacies, Health24

(Susan Erasmus, Health24)

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