The first Wizard of Darwin: part 2

The second part of our Pharmacy Profile featuring pharmacist Chi Ting (Stanley) Pang from the Northern Territory’s first Wizard Pharmacy, in Darwin’s Casuarina, includes his team’s performance through challenging times and how he views the pharmacy industry’s evolution, as well as where he sees the industry headed in the rest of 2023 and beyond.

How has your team performed during the challenges of the past few years, such as product shortages, frustrated customers, rosters, vaccines, etc. 

I’m incredibly proud and appreciative of my team. They’ve performed exceptionally well throughout the turbulent times of the past two years. I need to give them a special thank-you as they were always happy to take on more shifts and duties when other team members caught COVID. They also did an incredible job reassuring our community and being a consistently supportive and helpful presence.

My team and I have worked very hard to seek out different suppliers during any shortages we’ve experienced. For a period of time in early 2022, we were the only pharmacy in Darwin where RATs were available for our community. The same thing happened with Ozempic, Trulicity, and antibiotics like Resprim and Amoxycillin. When something is out of stock, we try our best to recommend other treatment options (for both prescription and OTC), which have certainly reduced the stress levels of some of our patients.

What was the way in which the COVID-19 pandemic most changed how your pharmacy operates? 

One of the most significant changes in our operation is greater collaboration with different healthcare professionals.

In the rapidly changing environment during COVID, my team and I worked closely with local healthcare professionals to provide the latest information and ensure an adequate supply of COVID-19 treatments, vaccinations, RATs, and more.

This built trust and strengthened relationships, which continued post-pandemic through to the major shortage of other common medications. We work with local GPs to maintain communication about supplies of medications and advise of alternative treatment options.

We were also able to offer services that complement other healthcare providers and ease their burdens, such as vaccinations, supervised RATs, cardiovascular health screenings and opioid dependence therapy.

With increasing GP waiting time, we also partnered to provide in-store online doctor consults via Telehealth to improve patient access to healthcare and safety. 

How has the pharmacy industry and its approach to health services evolved over the years? 

There’s been an expansion of clinical services in pharmacy beyond just dispensing medications, which, as we’re experiencing, can be quite susceptible to changes in PBS rules and legislation. The pharmacy industry and its approach to extending the scope of practice have been very swift, adaptive and welcoming. Examples are:

  • COVID-19 vaccination. The first Moderna vaccines were administered by pharmacists as early as August 2021. Australian pharmacists have administered millions of vaccinations under the COVAX initiative since then.
  • Other vaccinations. There’s a push in the NT for community pharmacists to administer NIP vaccines and more non-government-funded vaccines following the expansion [elsewhere in Australia] The addition of influenza vaccines for five- to 10-year-olds in NT community pharmacy will likely move forward due to pharmacists’ advocacy.
  • The UTI pharmacy pilot in Queensland. A milestone, with pharmacist prescribing for uncomplicated UTI to become a standard care Australia-wide in the near future.
  • Concessional free RATs. The existing online platform was modified into a workable and cost-effective infrastructure within a few months to distribute millions of RATs to Australian homes.

Many more initiatives are happening and moving forward, such as vaping products, medicinal cannabis, take-home naloxone, palliative care supply, on-site aged care pharmacist, tele-otoscopy, etc.

In the past few years, pharmacists have truly demonstrated our values and proven our capabilities to the Australian healthcare system. We’ll be confident to take on any challenge and opportunity that presents itself to the pharmacy industry.

What do you predict the rest of 2023 has in store for pharmacy, touching on any changes you think will occur, such as COVID issues, customer traffic, sustainability, etc? 

During the pandemic, the whole healthcare system was put under extreme stress. It highlighted how much more pharmacy can contribute to the system in different aspects. Extended scope of practice will continue to happen in many parts of the country, but there’ll be a lot of trial and error. Services we’ve proven to play a key role in will continue to crystalise as standard practices. As a result, pharmacies will shift towards being more service-based.

Big pharmaceutical companies have been looking into combining COVAX and FLUVAX, and clinical trials are underway. It’s not hard to see that a dual COVID-influenza vaccine will be rolled out to pharmacies and possibly be funded by NIP in the future.

There’s rising health consciousness and awareness of infection control. PPE and hygienic products have become consumer staples for every household and may emerge as a separate category in most pharmacies.

The boost in technological advancements in the last couple of years will likely continue. The cloud technology that enabled eScript and RTMP may be be explored and utilised in new ways to improve efficiency and patient safety. Concurrently, systems and processes will be put in place to deflect advancing cyber threats.

I suspect there’ll also be more opportunities for pharmacists in regional areas as net migration out of the capital cities and population growth continue. Overall, the pharmacy industry will benefit from an ageing population, as evidenced by the [Coalition] government’s $340 million-plus investment in aged care pharmacists.

At the time of writing this, there are also significant concerns about the implications 60-day dispensing will have on our industry and our ability to deliver the high standard of patient care we’ve worked so hard to achieve.

What do you look forward to most in the rest of 2023 – new strategies, services, upgrades or store plans? 

Wizard Pharmacy is in rapid expansion mode across Australia, which is really exciting to be a part of. There are also opportunities for new pharmacies in the Northern Territory, which I look forward to.

We’re ready to implement any extended scope of practice initiatives as soon as they’re approved in the Northern Territory – for example, Influenza vaccinations for five- to 10-year-olds and depot buprenorphine subcutaneous injections for CPOP [Community Program for Opioid Pharmacotherapy] patients. We’re also looking to introduce new clinical and non-clinical services for our customers and patients, such as ear piercing.

Our merchandise team at Wizard Pharmacy Services are currently working on a range of extensions of categories such as giftware and baby. Bringing in new, diverse categories and brands will provide our customers with even more options and the convenience of a one-stop destination.

This feature was originally published in the July issue of Retail Pharmacy magazine

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