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Australian Journal of Pharmacy : November 2006
pharmacy edu pharmacy practice research Consumer expectations of pharmacy Erica Vowles, research manager, Pharmacy Guild of Australia Research into consumer experiences, needs and expectations of community pharmacy has been undertaken by a consortium of researchers led by the University of South Australia.* T HE aim of this consumer research was to contribute to improving relationships between consumers, pharmacy staff and government, and to contribute to the development of consumer focused policy and pharmacy services. Researchers surveyed consumer experiences, expectations and needs and looked at how consumer participation be encouraged. The study attempted to gather quantitative information that was representative of the general population, and combine these results with qualitative data that explored the breadth of peo- ple’s experience and catered to specific groups’ needs. The study population comprised consumers and pharmacists. Consumers were divided into sub-groups of health consumers and non-health consumers.The definition of a health consumer was someone who either has, or cares for someone with, an ongo- ing condition requiring treatment, medication or monitoring, and who visits a pharmacy at least once a month to either buy something, get advice or browse. Respondents who did not sat- isfy these criteria were classified as non-health consumers. Findings The research developed a framework for representing consumer experiences, needs and expectations in relation to the quality of pharmacy services (Figure One). The implications of consider- ing the research results within this framework are: • consumer satisfaction with services, which is affected by expec- tation levels, may not always reflect the quality of pharmacy services as measured by professional standards and guidelines; • satisfaction expressed by general consumers may provide a dif- ferent picture of the quality of pharmacy services than satis- faction expressed by consumer and professional organisations; • needs and expectations of consumers are influenced by specific health needs which may influence their needs, expectations and experiences; and • needs stated by consumers are expressed needs and don’t include normative needs assessed by health professionals or needs related to services they are not aware of. Consumer experiences were assessed using seven common themes including: use of pharmacy services; general quality of services; availability of medicines; communication with the phar- macist and provision of information; privacy; costs; generic med- icines; and pharmacy assistants. 72 ? THE AUSTRALIAN JOURNAL OF PHARMACY VOL.87 NOVEMBER 2006 Consumer needs and expectations were assessed using the fol- lowing themes: general quality of services; information provi- sion; other services; and continuity of care. The results from the general public and exit surveys showed a high level of satisfaction of consumers with the services provided bycommunity pharmacies. Consumers and health consumers in particular rated the performance of pharmacists and pharmacy assistants very highly. The service was quick (80 per cent waited less than 10 minutes for their prescription) and privacy was rated as well or very well maintained (94 per cent). Almost 80 per cent of respondents could not think of anything to improve the serv- ice. These findings are consistent with Australian literature. In contrast to the views of consumers expressed in the surveys, the findings of the focus groups included concerns about the availability of medicines, privacy, variable service provision by pharmacy assistants, lack of approachability of pharmacists and lack of information provision on medicines. The differences between the qualitative and quantitative results need to be put in context when interpreted. A key ele- ment is the different characteristics of the consumers involved in each research method used in this study. For example, the con- sumers in the focus groups were more likely to have specific needs, in this case people living with HIV/AIDS or people on opi- oid replacement therapy. By contrast, only 2 per cent of respon- dents in the general public survey had used needle exchange serv- ices. Focus group participants were also more likely to be better informed because of their association with a consumer organi- sation. In turn this means that they are more likely to have clearly defined expectations of community pharmacies and potentially be more critical of their services. The consumer needs most frequently identified were: • ready access to needed medicines including shorter waiting times for prescriptions to be dispensed; • the need for consistent provision of written information, both about medicines (prescription and non-prescription) and about the services that community pharmacy offers; and • ability to speak with the pharmacist about how to use the med- icine and get written instructions on how to use the medicine. All peak professional and government stakeholders identified the need for high service standards provided bywell-trained staff familiar with the products they supply.