It’s estimated that around 334 million people in the world have asthma1. However, misconceptions that surround the disease – ranging from the misbelief that “asthma is contagious” to myths that it is an old-age disease – means that many sufferers are deterred from seeking counsel or treatment.
Under-diagnosed and under-treated, asthma creates a substantial burden to individuals and their families, according to the World Health Organisation2. This is particularly common in many parts of the developing world, where the stigma around asthma and its treatment can lead to a lack of long-term management of the condition.
As an intermediary between physicians and patients, pharmacists have often been suggested as a valuable resource in addressing this knowledge gap. Given their ease of access in emerging markets, pharmacists can play an essential role in tightening the asthma management eco-system.
Several studies over the last few decades have shown the therapeutic and economic value of pharmacist intervention in areas such as asthma education, assessment and monitoring. Pharmacist intervention has been shown to lead to better asthma control, which in turn leads to an improved quality of life, reduced hospital care and physician visits.3,4,5,6 Here’s three reasons why pharmacists are critical to supporting patients get the best outcomes from their asthma medicines:
Pharmacists can encourage treatment through education: Inmany parts of the world, pharmacists are more frequently consulted by patients than physicians, as they are more accessible and visited more often when purchasing medication. Even when patients are diagnosed, physicians face the challenge of helping them better understand their disease and how treatment may help manage their condition. As a significant point of patient contact, pharmacists can be instrumental in educating patients about asthma and its treatment.
Pharmacists can help improve adherence and effective management: Often, even patients who seek treatment may not really understand their condition or the way their treatment works. Studies have found adherence to long-term medications to be low (approximately 30-40%7), which in turn can lead to less effective disease management8. Pharmacists can play a key role in discussing asthma action plans and promoting understanding and adherence to prescribed medications.
Pharmacists can review and refer patients if needed: The frequency with which patients refill their medicines is a tell-tale sign of whether their asthma is well-managed. Pharmacists can track this frequency and help to monitor a patient’s condition. In cases where there are indications of overuse of rescue medications or signs of poorly controlled asthma, pharmacists can help identify and refer them to physicians where required.
Enhancing the care ecosystem
When it comes to the management of a disease like asthma more can be done for and by pharmacists. Pharmacists should be recognised as key pillars to asthma treatment and partners in the quest for effective long-term asthma management. It’s crucial that the health industry continues to support pharmacists, equipping them with appropriate resources and training materials to provide guidance for patients. Policy makers too can do their part, setting up appropriate channels for collaboration such as joint forums.
For the millions of patients suffering from asthma, a closer collaboration and partnership with pharmacists would mean better disease management and ultimately, a better chance to breathe easier.
Dr. Sharmila Ramachandran is the Vice President and Global Medical Head for Classic & Established Products at GSK. Dr. Aruni Mulgirigama is the Global Medical Director for Respiratory in Classic & Established Products at GSK.
- The Global Asthma Report, http://www.globalasthmareport.org/burden/burden.php
- World Health Organisation, http://www.who.int/respiratory/asthma/en/
- Mehuys E, et al. Effectiveness of pharmacist intervention for asthma control improvement. Eur Respir J. 2008 Apr;31(4):790-9.
- Farrag RR, et al. Asthma Patient Care: The Pharmacist's Perspective. Scientific Research. 2014 June; 5(6):551-559.
- Armour C, et al. Pharmacy Asthma Care Program (PACP) improves outcomes for patients in the community. Thorax. 2007 Jun;62(6):496-502.
- Saini B, et al. Development, implementation, and evaluation of a community pharmacy-based asthma care model. Ann Pharmacother. 2004 Nov;38(11):1954-60.
- Lasmar et al, 2009