Superintendent pharmacist and IP Atika Tailor talks to Saša Janković about running a comprehensive travel health service at Sturdee Avenue Pharmacy in Gillingham, Kent.
Service type: Travel health service.
Name of pharmacy: Sturdee Avenue Pharmacy, Gillingham, Kent.
Name of superintendent pharmacist: Atika Tailor.
Why did you start offering this service?
I started offering this service under a PGD with MASTA in 2013, before launching my own travel health service when I qualified as an IP in 2017.
I’d had some queries from customers wanting travel health advice, so when MASTA got in touch with me about their service I thought the support they offered would be a good way to get started. However, after a while I knew that it wasn’t going to be a long-term option for us, plus I wanted to expand in my own role and start focusing on services more than simply dispensing. Under the MASTA service all I had to do was administer the vaccinations – I wasn’t able to offer same day appointments for people who needed injections quickly, and I had to buy all my vaccinations from MASTA, which was a more expensive way of doing things. I really wanted to do the whole travel risk assessment consultations myself, which I feel gives a better service to our customers, and promotes the clinical reputation of being a pharmacist more.
How much did it cost to set up the service?
There was no direct cost to set up the service, although I did upskill myself with a diploma in travel health from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, and as the service grew I have spent some money on social media advertising.
What, if any, training did you or other team members have to undergo?
My team take most of the main enquiries so I’ve explained the process and services to them. You get a lot of people who just ask what vaccinations they need but it’s not as simple as that so my staff can explain more. They take any phone calls and pass them on to me if customers want to book appointments or have any queries.
In a nutshell, what does the service involve?
People come to us from a variety of places to make use of the service: some are already our customers, we get walk-ins, some come from GP surgeries, others from our social media advertising and via internet searches. Word of mouth is the most common way, and we have repeat custom from regular travellers too.
Our appointments are bookable, so I can make sure I have another pharmacist in the dispensary. We email out preassessment forms to customers so they can fill in their travel itinerary and past medical history for me to before their appointment, and I have been doing virtual consultations during Covid.
When they come in, we chat about the different risks that are vaccine and non-vaccine preventable and come up with shared plan about what they want to go ahead with. It takes around 20 minutes for a consultation and maybe half an hour if people are having vaccinations as well. Everyone’s risk is different when it comes to travel health, and vaccines only address some of them so there’s no point bombarding them with vaccinations if they don’t understand the other risks and how to prevent them. It’s as much about awareness and education as it is vaccinations.
Are there any opportunities to sell over the counter or prescription products during the consultation or after it?
Yes – when customers come in for travel services we can sell them other things such as insect repellents, sun creams and diarrhoea treatments, so we make sure we always have these things in stock. Running a travel clinic brings in a different clientele who are willing to pay privately for services, and we have found they are more willing pay for things over the counter too.
How have patients responded to the service?
We charge for our consultations because there is so much more to a risk assessment than just the vaccines. People don’t seem to mind, and tell us they are impressed with the service.
Roughly how often each month do you carry out the service?
Pre-Covid, I saw about 15-20 people a week in peak times around summer or Christmas, and fewer in between.
How much do you charge for the service?
The consultation fee is £25, but if they end up having vaccinations or anti malarials we take that off the total cost. I wanted to add value to the consultation and have never had any complaints about the fact that we charge for it. Pharmacists are used to being paid for what we dispense but we give our advice away for free. I’ve spent a lot of time and money upskilling myself, and I don’t see why I should do things for nothing. I am a believer that we need to lead by example and start doing this to add value to our profession.
Roughly how much a month do you make from offering the service?
Figures not available.
Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?
I would, but it depends if you’ve got the time to put into it. I do think it has to be a holistic approach and you need to make sure another pharmacist is there so you have the time to spend doing your consultation. Travel advice changes all the time because of emerging disease and outbreaks, so you have to be prepared to keep up with that.