‘I used to refer patients to GPs – not any more’: Find out how one pharmacist boosted his business's profits by setting up a travel clinic

The Pharmacist’s Clinical Champions scheme celebrates the extraordinary work of ordinary pharmacists.

Our first Champion, Jignesh Patel, says he ‘loves every aspect of travel health care’. ‘It’s about everything you’ve studied for and are qualified to do,’ he says. He owns the Rohpharm Pharmacy, which has branches in Newham, east London and Ilford in Essex. He has been running a travel clinic since 2010 and was prompted to do so to meet the needs of a diverse patient community.

‘The pharmacies are based in a cosmopolitan area with people from different parts of the world who travel quite a bit to see their families,’ he explains. Typical destinations include the Caribbean, Asia and Eastern Europe. The pharmacy also services a large Muslim population, some of whom go on religious pilgrimages overseas, which requires a meningitis vaccine.

Mr Patel recalls that his pharmacies ‘had a lot of people phone us to ask for travel advice, such as what vaccines they needed. I used to refer customers to their GP. And then I thought: “Whycan’t pharmacy do this?”’

Mr Patel then looked for training on how to deliver this service. He found PharmaDoctor, which supports pharmacy to deliver private services, and was one of the first to take part in its travel health training scheme.

The first part of his training looked at different disease states and public health aspects of travel, including what people need to know before they travel and how to individually assess patients in terms of their travel itinerary and any medical conditions.

He was also taught how to categorise what is important for customers’ travel health needs. This included evaluating the risks of diseases people could contract overseas, specific vaccinations they would need, talking them through potential side-effects and the importance of taking a risk assessment before giving vaccines, such as asking about allergies and any previous allergic reactions to vaccinations.

Having already provided private flu injections to customers, Mr Patel says he felt ‘confident about administering travel vaccinations and taking risk assessments’.

Getting certified

Once he has assessed a patient, Mr Patel asks for consent to give a particular vaccine. ‘We can only advise about the highest risks of conditions for an area they are going to, and that if they have not been vaccinated for a condition prevalent in a specific country that they could pick up that condition, which may be difficult to treat overseas,’ he explains.

The second part of his training was online and involved answering 20 multiple choice questions, requiring an 80% pass rate, which he achieved. A travel clinic nurse from PharmaDoctor then visited for two days to observe the travel health care service in action and to sign off core competencies.

‘Having achieved that pass, I received a Patient Group Direction (PGD), and was authorised by PharmaDoctor to offer travel health care,’ he says.

When starting his travel clinic, Mr Patel needed to consider how it should run, and who he should market the service to. Potential clients worked at local hospitals, schools, the police force and even sixth-form colleges. Mr Patel approached all these organisations and found there was a demand for this private pharmacy service.

Sometimes there was a demand for occupational health vaccines. Some local university students wanted to do voluntary work overseas. With GP practices full to capacity with travel healthcare demands, and universities needing vaccinations for students, Mr Patel found these organisations were referring to his service, and that he was gaining a reputation for offering travel health support. As his reputation for offering that service spread, demand for Mr Patel’s travel clinic increased.

As well as easing pressures on GP services, Mr Patel’s travel clinics ensure people are able to make an appointment at a time that suits them. Compared to GPs, he says, pharmacists have more time to give advice.

Of course, setting up a travel clinic may not be plain sailing. As Mr Patel points out, it requires investment and training. It involves raising awareness that the service exists, such as displaying posters in windows.

And it might mean overcoming resistance about the service from GPs, who may feel you are encroaching on their territory. You might have to ‘prove your worth – that you are an expert in this field’, he says.

Seven years on, Mr Patel enjoys recognition from GPs and nurses who seek his advice about travel health. He says: ‘It’s great to be appreciated as a clinician and use your clinical skills to the full.’

Click here to find out how you and your pharmacy team can apply to become Clinical Champions.