A virtual consultation service has been helping pharmacy patients who are self-isolating access health services during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The novel service - launched just under a month ago - has meant patients no longer have to enter the pharmacy and risk contaminating themselves and others. 

The video service has also given staff who are stuck at home self-isolating the opportunity to work remotely.

Sunil K Kochhar, the independent prescriber and owner of Regent Pharmacy in Gravesend who started this service, said that since the service was promoted on social media it has been gaining popularity with patients in the local community, nationally, and even in some cases, globally.

Service is popular

‘Irrespective of what's happening, people are still suffering from other non-Covid related issues like hayfever and first aid, the service is needed,’ the pharmacist explained.

‘We’ve had many virtual consultation requests from patients in our community. Recently, we helped someone from Essex who was suffering a skin issue, we did a consultation and I was able to send an electronic private prescription to their community pharmacy,’ he said.

News of the service has even reached countries beyond the UK: ‘We’ve even had two patients from outside the UK - one from Kenya - requesting consultations who we had to refer to local healthcare professionals.’

The wide reach of the service is just one of its many benefits, explained Mr Kochhar: ‘Remote consultations don't just fix your community, they allow you to help out lots of other communities’.

Footfall remains high

Although the virtual service has reduced the number of people coming into the pharmacy, footfall remains at an all-time high.

Mr Kochhar thinks this is because the local community is utilising the pharmacy in new ways: ‘people are using it as the daily exercise and to get something for the house.

Many dentists and GP’s have shut so we are seeing a high number of patients who would usually be seeing them.’

The pharmacist also said that until the wider public begins to see pharmacists as prescribers rather than ‘just dispensers’, pharmacies will continue to see a high footfall of patients, many of whom are not necessarily looking for clinical help.

‘The concept of virtual consultations isn't the issue. People are using platforms like zoom and facetime a lot now - it’s not new. It's the concept that you can get clinical help and prescriptions from your pharmacist which needs to be pushed.’

‘We can help other community pharmacies’

Mr Kochhar stressed that the new service has also helped other local community pharmacies in his area.

‘We can help other community pharmacies who are inundated with other work by seeing patients they refer to us for a virtual consultation and then we can just send across private prescriptions. Pharmacies know there is somewhere locally that can help their patients - so we’ve become this kind of hub,’ he said.

Looking at the future, Mr Kochhar said that he believed this was a very important time for community pharmacy, as a sector which has too often been ‘overlooked’ by the government, it’s now playing a very vital and recognised frontline role in the country's battle with Covid-19.

Community pharmacies must ‘work together’

‘I think finally, the government, the public and even pharmacists themselves are starting to realise how critical and pivot their role is.’

‘This is the time for local community pharmacists to come and work together in any way they can.’

Last week, Boots announced the launch of their own trial of video consultations.

What’s happening in your area? Contact Isabel at [email protected] with any information that would be useful for us to share with community pharmacy colleagues