Background and objective: Community pharmacies are often the first port of call for consumers with minor illness. In Portugal assisting self-medication in this setting—by supplying non-prescription medicines (NPM) or assessing symptoms—involves pharmacists and support staff (technicians and assistants). There is a paucity of research on support staff roles. This paper, which is part of a larger study, reports the perceived roles of pharmacy staff in assisting consumers in self-medication.
Setting and method: In-depth interviews with one pharmacist, one pharmacy technician and three pharmacy assistants were conducted as part of a case study in a purposively selected high street urban pharmacy. The topic guide included questions on staff’s role in self-medication. Interviews were audiotaped, transcribed verbatim and analysed using the Framework Approach with the aid of NVIVO. The tripartite model of attitudes guided the thematic framework development. Ethical approval was granted.
Main outcome measures: Pharmacy staff perceived roles in self-medication.
Results: Both cognitive and affective dimensions were found. Accounts on role definition were associated mainly with the cognitive dimension. There was general concurrence about the ability of support staff to adequately assist consumers in self-medication. When discussing the role of pharmacists versus support staff, all non-pharmacists except one argued that there was no distinction. One pharmacy assistant overtly displayed a view that ‘‘I don’t see why (a pharmacist) is needed’’, whilst recognising that a pharmacist could be consulted when in doubt about the posology, interactions and contraindications. This consulting role was echoed by others and by the pharmacist, who pointed out the ability to detect possible adverse drug reactions as an additional reason for his involve- ment. Another role assigned to the pharmacist by support staff was that of a figure of authority.
Positive affective dimensions were found in interviewees’ narrative on their role in self-medication, related to perceptions of increased customer loyalty and professional satisfaction.
Conclusions: It seems that support staff perceives assisting of consumers in self-medication as integral to their role. Although the workflow in Portuguese community pharmacy allows supervision by pharmacists, who work in the frontline with support staff, the apparent inexistence of structured mechanisms for in-pharmacy referrals to the pharmacist has potential implications for practice and policy. Ensuring the quality and safety in assisting self-medication by support staff may require standardisation of training and agreement on situations that require in-pharmacy referral.
Disclosure of interest: None Declared.