Sun | Nov 29, 2020

Speedier service - Sharp cut in waiting time convinces health ministry to add more private pharmacies to public DrugServe scheme

Published:Thursday | August 3, 2017 | 8:01 AMRyon Jones
A woman hands her prescription to health minister Dr Christopher Tufton (centre), while Dr Ernestine Watson (right), clinical pharmacist at Everybody’s Pharmacy, looks on at the Kingston launch of the Public Sector Pharmacy Partner pilot programme last February.

Thirty-three more pharmacies are to be added to the Ministry of Health 'Public Private Pharmacy (PPP) Partner Programme' by March of next year after a successful seven-month pilot.

The pilot programme, which has so far cost the government $11.3 million, is aimed at remedying the long waiting times, overcrowding and inadequate access points that patients endure in filling prescriptions at the National Health Fund (NHF)-operated DrugServ pharmacies.

The pilot involved 17 private pharmacies located close to major health centres, seven in Kingston, five in Clarendon and five in St James.

And with 90 per cent of the 127 customers who gave feedback on the pilot programme having expressed satisfaction with the level of service offered, plans are on in earnest to almost triple the number of private pharmacies engaged to dispense medication to persons given prescriptions at public hospitals and clinics.

"So the plan between now and the next financial year is to identify 50 pharmacies across the country and engage in this contractual relationship with the technology that we use to manage that arrangement," Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton told The Sunday Gleaner.

"The ultimate goal is to reduce waiting, so patients have that option to go to a private entity rather than wait at the hospital and, basically, to enhance the quality of service.

"The pilot is suggesting that it can work and it has worked. The idea is to filter through all parishes," added Tufton.

During the pilot stage, the 17 private pharmacies processed 21,925 prescriptions with an average waiting time of 26 minutes. This earned a 90 per cent satisfaction rating from those who provided feedback.

This waiting time was a marked improvement on that experienced at NHF-operated DrugServ pharmacies, located at public hospitals, which, according to reports received by the Ministry of Health, in some instances, averaged as much as three hours, with more than 100,000 prescriptions being processed monthly.

The top-producing private pharmacies involved in the pilot averaged 20-24 prescriptions per day, with the lukewarm acceptance of the service being deemed the major contributor to the results.

A report on the pilot programme recommended that given the large investment of time and financial resources by the NHF, greater effort must be taken to ensure a greater buy-in for the project to ensure that the benefits outweigh the costs.

But NHF CEO Everton Anderson explained that the aim of the pilot was not to significantly impact the existing workload of DrugServ pharmacies, but instead, to understand the system and make adjustments where necessary.

"Our intention wasn't for them (private pharmacies) to do large volumes initially; it was to test the model," said Anderson.

"So we didn't go out and market extensively because it was new to the PPP pharmacies also, so we wouldn't want too many patients initially to utilise it. So the pilot project was not designed for that significant reduction."

According to Anderson, when the programme is fully implemented, the aim is for "about 30 per cent of the outpatient load to be utilising the PPP pharmacies in their area."

The programme, which combined resources of the NHF and the private pharmacies to deliver the service, featured a selected basket of drugs, which remained as government-owned inventory.

The agreement included a processing fee of $600 per prescription, with the NHF paying $400 and patients paying $200, to which 98 per cent of those persons surveyed had no objection.

Tufton anticipates that it will cost the government more to provide medication to public patients as, with greater access, more person will seek to fill prescriptions.

"Our job is to provide efficient service, and the infrastructure to be put in place to provide that efficient service is expensive," said Tufton.

"Our job it is to enhance customer satisfaction to give patients the medication that they need, and there is a cost attached to it. What we are trying to do is identify one area of the deficit that exists in public health, and it is going to cost resources," added Tufton.