Pharmacists "under-utilised" in the fight against disease

From left to right: Dr Victoria Garcia Cardenas, Assistant Professor Jose Cristian Plaza and Professor Charlie Benrimoj. Picture by Rachael Brown

From left to right: Dr Victoria Garcia Cardenas, Assistant Professor Jose Cristian Plaza and Professor Charlie Benrimoj. Picture by Rachael Brown

In summary: 
  • Chilean pharmacy researcher Jose Cristian Plaza says pharmacists are an under-utilised resource in health care
  • Working with the UTS Graduate School of Health as a visiting scholar, Assistant Professor Plaza says evidence shows that when pharmacists get involved in the management of patients with AIDS, the use of healthcare resources decreases

Patients with AIDS tend to have complex needs as they are using five or more medications and are more susceptible to suffering drug related problems requiring hospitalisation.

According to Chilean pharmacy researcher Jose Cristian Plaza, there is an opportunity to improve the way these patients are treated by the health care system through increased collaboration with pharmacists.

The assistant professor from the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile (PUC) is currently visiting Sydney to work with researchers from the UTS Graduate School of Health (GSH) as part of the UTS Key Technology Partner program.

"Currently the Chilean government invests a lot of money in medications that are not being used in an effective or safe manner," says Plaza.

"Evidence shows that when pharmacists get involved in the management of patients with AIDS, the use of healthcare resources decreases, the quality of life of those patients improves and the routine of multi-drug medication is managed for those patients."

Plaza's research interests focus on the implementation of pharmacy services and health complex interventions, with other work investigating toxicity of methotrexate, a drug commonly used for rheumatoid arthritis, and research into the under-reporting of adverse drug reactions and their consequences.

"Pharmacists are under-utilised and can do much more in the fight against diseases," says Plaza. "The role of the pharmacist is very important to those patients who are elderly and in hospital or leaving as an outpatient.

"It is an active 'pharmacovigilance' system carried out by pharmacists that prevents relapse and improves detection."

The Sydney visit is providing Plaza with valuable new insights, working with Head of the GSH Professor Charlie Benrimoj and UTS Pharmacy lecturer and researcher Dr Victoria Cardenas.

"Working with the academics and understanding the realities they face here versus Chile has been invaluable.  I am exposed to the point-of-view of local students and researchers which provides more rich analysis and data," says Plaza.

"I am able to experience how local communities support and train pharmacists to ultimately develop and assist patients with management of medications and provide other kinds of services like screening and education."

The benefits are mutual according to Professor Benrimoj. "PUC is a leading university in South America and as such we are sharing knowledge and expertise. The collaboration between the two universities improves UTS's international reputation and allows GSH to increase our international publications.

"We will also host two PhD students from Chile and co-supervise them. This collaboration will help our PhD students and give them international exposure."

Dr Cardenas says further joint research is being planned. "We are already preparing a grant that will be submitted to the Chilean department of health. The project will aim to evaluate the clinical, economic and humanistic impact of a pharmacist-led medication review. 

"Medication review is a professional pharmacy service aimed at detecting and resolving negative outcomes associated with the use of medications. It is usually provided in collaboration with a GP and other health care professionals," says Cardenas.

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